'Her life was in danger': Woman forced to give birth on dual carriageway speaks of maternity failure

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry speaks to those affected by the crisis in maternity care

A woman forced to give birth in a car on a dual carriageway because her local maternity unit was closed has told ITV News that her daughter's life was put at risk because of a national shortage of midwives.

Kerie Fisher, 31, gave birth to Madison last year in the back of her father's car in the middle of the night.

With no ambulance to help, Ms Fisher, a senior home care worker, said it was lucky her husband knew first aid and not only managed to deliver Madison, but cleared her airways when she didn't breathe after she was born.

'My husband ended up delivering my daughter in the back of my dad's car', Kerie Fisher said

"I do believe that her life was in danger due to the fact that my husband had delivered her," she told ITV News as she described the cold conditions which left her daughter freezing after being born.

She said there may have been "different circumstances" if her husband had not been first aid trained, as another minute or two passed after the delivery for an ambulance to arrive.

Ms Fisher, from North Yorkshire, says she saw first-hand how stretched midwives were when she eventually arrived at hospital: “I don’t blame the midwives, it’s not their fault but I blame the circumstances".

“It’s so upsetting thinking about my experience, I felt pushed aside, forgotten about.” 

'A minute or two is life and death in this situation'

Her experience has highlighted the crisis in maternity care which has seen scores of women undergo traumatic birth because of a lack of midwives.

Numerous safety reports have cited under-staffing as an issue that is comprising the delivery of safe care, with a feared exodus of midwives threatening to strain already-struggling services on their knees.

Hiral Varsani, from London, described the immense weight of the pressure of having to be "your own caregiver"- especially given as her baby was ill.

"I try not to think about it. I don't look at pictures from when she was born," she told ITV News.

"I tried to- I guess- pretended like it never happened, which is difficult because you don't want to pretend like you never gave birth to your child."

'There was no care. It felt like I was just looking after myself'

Experts have said that, under UK maternity law, everyone has the right to choose where and how to give birth and have a safe experience of care.

But Amy Gibbs, Chief Executive of Birthrights, has said that ministers must urgently improve staffing shortfalls in maternity care as new data reveals just how many women and birthing partners across England are being impacted by midwife shortages.

Research by ITV News has found that between June and December of last year, 55% of midwife led units in England who responded to Freedom of Information requests, had to temporarily shut- because under-staffing was an issue.

In one case a unit had to close 79 times, according to the responses.

The closures left some women in labour suddenly unable to have the birth they'd planned. Nearly half (45%) of the NHS Trusts that replied to our requests told us they'd had to divert pregnant women to other hospitals.

Ms Gibbs told ITV News that Covid has exacerbated the staffing crisis in maternity care, which has in part been caused by chronic under-funding of services which has left staff demoralised and exhausted.

'This is not a new issue. The staffing crisis has been brewing. Covid has made it worse'

Agreeing with Ms Gibbs' assessment of the root cause of the crisis, a midwife, who wishes to remain anonymous, said there are simply not enough staff to deliver an adequate standard of care.

She said that staff, who often work through all their breaks, feel exhausted after ending their shifts.

"You just end each shift feeling like you have failed people, that you haven't done the things that you really wanted to achieve.

"I have been told that I shouldn't care so much. But how can you do a job like being a midwife without caring," she added, as she described what felt like constant requests to do extra hours.

'It feels like your best is just never enough'

She told ITV News that the pressure mounted to the point of hopelessness, and contributed to a deterioration in her mental health.

"You just feel so tired from it all. If you are on a labour ward you might be looking after a number of women simultaneously when women are meant to have one to one care in active labour," the midwife said.

"But we can't offer that because we just have not got the staff."

The government has said that supporting the mental health of staff in the NHS is a key priority, with the health service offer a range of support, including wellbeing hubs.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Midwives do an incredibly important job and we know how challenging it has been working through the pandemic.

"The number of midwives working in the NHS has increased by more than 12% since 2010 and we are aiming to hire 1,200 more with a £95 million recruitment drive."

  • Who to contact if you or someone you know is in need of help:

Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.

Birthrights, a charity which provides advice and information on your legal rights and on midwives. You can email them on info@birthrights.org.uk or call 0300 400 3400.

Pandas offers support on all sorts of maternal mental health issues. Their free helpline number is  0808 1961 776.

If you are a midwife or a parent and want to get in touch to share your story please email: birthstories@itv.com