Poor maternity care 'tolerated as normal', report finds

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports on the shocking findings into the inquiry

A parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma is calling for a national plan to improve maternity care after it heard "harrowing" evidence from thousands of women.

The all-party inquiry, led by Conservative MP Theo Clarke and Labour MP Rosie Duffield, published its findings on Monday.

More than 1,300 women gave testimony to the inquiry, which, according to the report's authors, found "poor care is all frequently tolerated as normal, and women are treated as an inconvenience".

One woman who had a traumatic birth told ITV News how her daughter became stuck during childbirth, suffering a stroke and was subsequently diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy.

Honey Attridge said she was left in "constant pain" while receiving maternity care for the birth of her daughter Sophie.

Hospital staff also failed to immediately diagnose Ms Attridge with third degree tears and only identified her injuries six months after she gave birth.

"Because I was a first time mum I just didn't know what was normal and what wasn't normal," she said.

"I just felt really kind of alone, I felt like I was the only one and I'd see other mums kind of pushing their buggies around and I'd think 'oh how come they're so happy?'.

"What's wrong with me? I thought it was my fault."

Ms Attridge's experience was echoed by Divina Johnson, who told ITV's Good Morning Britain she feared death after a nurse wrongly administered an epidural.

Honey Attridge was left with undiagnosed third degree tears from her childbirth for six months. Credit: ITV News

Ms Johnson, who had three traumatic births, said she felt reduced to a "vessel that had a baby" while receiving maternity care, and that she faced racist abuse from a consultant.

A third of the women who gave testimony to the inquiry said they experienced traumatic births, while one out of 25 were left with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Responding to the findings, the report's authors wrote: "In many of these cases, the trauma was caused by mistakes and failures made before and during labour.

"Frequently, these errors were covered up by hospitals who frustrated parents' efforts to find answers.

"There were also many stories of care that lacked compassion, including women not being listened to when they felt something was wrong, being mocked or shouted at and being denied basic needs such as pain relief."

Charlotte Devenish had to have an emergency hysterectomy after she was diagnosed with placenta increta - a rare condition where the placenta attaches itself even more deeply into the muscle wall of the uterus.

Her heart rate dropped and she lost 13 litres of blood. After 8 hours in surgery, she was put in a coma and didn't meet her daughter for two days.

She got PTSD afterwards. She found it a lonely and frightening time because she didn't get given any help or support either for her mental health or her hysterectomy.

The time was also very traumatic for her partner, who she said "saw things that day that nobody should have to see." One of the findings of the report is that there is no support for partners either.

Charlotte Devenish said she nearly had to have her leg amputated because she lost so much blood during an emergency hysterectomy

Among the recommendations included in the report is the creation of a maternity commissioner reporting to the prime minister.

Ms Clarke, who pushed for the inquiry after revealing in Parliament that she felt she was going to die after giving birth in 2022, told The Times: "We have listened to mums carefully and applaud their bravery in coming forward, sometimes with horrific testimony of how the system failed them and the mental, physical and economic cost of that failure.

"The raft of recommendations we make, especially the appointment of a maternity commissioner, are all designed to end the postcode lottery on maternity services."

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the experiences of the women who gave evidence to the inquiry were "simply not good enough".

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said she was "determined to improve the quality and consistency of care for women throughout pregnancy, birth and the critical months that follow".

In January, she shared her personal experience of the "darker corners" of the NHS, after giving birth as a patient with type one diabetes.

"I want to reform our NHS and care system to make it faster, simpler and fairer for all of us and that includes women," she said.

Help and support for any of the issues raised in this article can be found via a number of organisations, including:

  • Birth Trauma Association is a British charity that is solely dedicated to supporting women and families who have experienced traumatic birth. It offers a range of support which can be found on its official website.

  • Tommy's works across the whole pregnancy journey and offers bespoke online advice to anyone suffering with PTSD following childbirth.

  • The National Childbirth Trust supports thousands of parents every year on their pregnancy journey and lists advice on its official website regarding how to recognise the signs of a traumatic birth or PTSD.

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