Women’s experience of NHS maternity care is improving but almost one in four mothers are still being left alone during labour or birth, a major new survey reveals.
More mothers were satisfied with how they were looked after when they gave birth in England, in-depth research by the Care Quality Commission, the NHS care watchdog, has found.
Growing numbers of women were offered a choice of where to give birth, saw the same midwife during their antenatal care and were helped while they waited in hospital with their baby before going home.
However, childbirth campaigners warned that overdue improvements in the quality of maternity services should not disguise the fact that many women, often a majority, still do not get care standards pledged over a decade ago.
The NCT, a parenting charity, voiced alarm at the CQC’s finding that 23% of the 18,426 women surveyed were worried by being left without a midwife or doctor present during their labour or birth. That was only 3% fewer than the 26% who said the same when the same survey was undertaken in 2015.
“Encouragingly, the number of women left alone in labour has reduced. However, it is still of great concern that 23% of women are left alone during the birth of their baby, which can be a very frightening and dangerous experience,” said Elizabeth Duff, the NCT’s senior policy adviser.
“This reinforces the fact that staffing levels are low and midwives are being stretched to the limit, so we continue to call on the government to address this midwife shortage.”
NHS policy since 2010 has been that all women should always have a midwife or doctor with them during labour and birth to provide advice, reassurance and practical help. But shortages of midwives make that ambition difficult to fulfil. Midwives can end up looking after several women giving birth simultaneously, said Duff.