More doctors could have saved the lives of 154 mothers

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Although frequently caused by treatable medical conditions, maternal deaths remain a sad reality in the NHS. And now the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists obstetricians has blamed a lack of specialist maternity doctors available to spot early warning signs.

In a recent article published in the British Medical Journal, the RCOG suggested partnering obstetrics with other medical specialties such as cancer, heart, respiratory and mental health to reduce the risk of mothers and babies dying.

As birth rates increase, women wait longer before starting a family and more women with complex medical conditions become pregnant, in part due to the availability of IVF and other treatments, the number of complicated pregnancies looks set to rise.

Between 2006 to 2008 a Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths found: 107 mothers died of conditions that could only have arisen if they had been pregnant (direct deaths) 154 died of indirect causes, including infections and underlying health problems.

"All women should be entitled to the highest quality maternity care but with widespread cuts on the way it seems unlikely more funds will be allocated to ensuring this is in fact the case" said Janet Johnson, Medical Negligence Specialist at Simpson Millar.

Despite a fall in maternal death rates overall, hospitals are seeing an increase in deaths of mothers caused by existing medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, asthma or heart failure. In many cases a poor level of care has been found to blame for the death of a mother which could have been prevented.

Professor Catherine Nelson-Piercy and her obstetric colleagues wrote in the BMJ: "These failings need urgent attention". She called for better training and more obstetric physicians specialising in caring for pregnant women with medical problems. According to the Royal College of Midwives, a staggering 4,700 additional midwives are needed across the country to provide pregnant women with a safe service.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "There has been a significant reduction in the number of women dying during pregnancy in the UK, but every death is one too many."


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