Giving Birth at Night or During the Weekend – an increase in medical negligence and compensation claims?

According to research conducted by the Daily Mail (following information obtained under the Freedom of Information Laws), three quarters of maternity units have no Consultants during the night. Apparently, the majority of Consultants go home at night and leave the care of women in labour to midwives and junior doctors.

According to the Daily Mail, the same lack of Consultant presence occurs at the weekend with a Consultant being present for a few hours within a 24 hour period.

It is true that a Consultant on call must be available to deal with anything urgent via telephone (that’s if staff even want to make the call) but when they don’t live seconds away (a Consultant Obstetrician must live a maximum of 30 minutes away from their hospital) and when every second counts, this set up is going to lead to poor outcomes in an increase in compensation claims. This is even more likely when the Daily Mail has reported that 70 per cent of births are outside of “normal working hours” with the peak time being 4:00 AM.

This information really is alarming. As wonderful as the junior doctors and midwives are, there are situations that require the involvement of a Consultant. These are situations where the life of a baby or mother are at risk and normally, a quick decision needs to be made and/or an action plan put into plan. A woman deserves to receive high-quality care whatever hour of the day she gives birth and whether it’s a weekday or during the weekend.

NHS England has said that it makes no difference to safety whether a Consultant is on duty or not but I find that hard to believe. If the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agreed with this statement, why would they say that ideally, hospitals should have the presence of a Consultant for 24 hours a day. The medical negligence team have seen first hand how a lack of Consultant presence has led to tragic outcomes in childbirth, for both mother and baby. When every second counts, a mother and/or her baby cannot wait for a call to be made or a Consultant to attend from home.

I appreciate that it’s expensive to have a Consultant present 24/7 and that this is unlikely to be achieved due to budget restraints. However, surely a better system can be rolled out to ensure that a Consultant is actually in a hospital for longer than they are now. What that is is beyond my knowledge but I hope that this information published by the Daily Mail is a wake up call. It’s all very well claiming to want to half the number of babies deaths by 2020 but this is a case of actions speaking louder than words.

For more information on the lack of Consultant presence, please see:

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