Earlier this month, the BBC covered a United Nations report that worldwide maternal mortality fell by almost 50% in the past 25 years. Despite the World Health Organisation describing this as “huge progress” the results do sadly report that 99% of all deaths still happen in “developing” countries.
Looking from the other perspective, is it acceptable for rich, technology advanced developed countries to still suffer 1% of worldwide maternal deaths? 357 women died in the UK during or in the following 6 weeks after pregnancy in the UK between 2010 and 2012. An Oxford University assessment reported that half of these deaths could have been avoided with better medical care and, because the immune system is weaker during pregnancy, if these women had received a flu jab.
These statistics show a gradual improvement in the UK on previous years. Comparison with 2006-2008 and 2009-2012 shows a fall in maternal deaths from 11 to 10 out of every 100,000 women.
Maternal deaths are, of course, very rare. This is because of general high-standards of care in the NHS and progress with identifying and treating long-standing dangerous conditions such as haemorrhages and pre-eclampsia (see my next blog for detail about these two specific conditions).
Other non-medical factors may also be causative of maternal deaths; in particular, staff shortages. In 2012, for example, it was reported that twice as many mothers died in London than the rest of the country because of a shortage of midwives (http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/04april/Pages/midwife-numbers-london-pregnancy-deaths.aspx).
The standard of staffing, particularly at weekends, is another factor that often arises in clinical negligence claims involving maternal deaths. Locum doctors have, in particular, been prominent in some recent high profile cases. Although they play a crucial in providing cover at Hospitals across the NHS questions have been raised about their knowledge of Hospital protocols, policies and working practices and, in some situations, the standard of their training and competency. Further training for all NHS staff is clearly high on the agenda in an effort to improve the care provided and, in this context, to drive down the number of avoidable maternal deaths that occur in the UK.
If you think you, or your child, may have suffered an injury as a result of negligent medical treatment and would like to speak with a member of the Lester Morrill clinical negligence team, please call on 0113 245 8549 or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .