Gas and air withdrawn from mums-to-be over safety fears for midwives and hospital staff

  • ITV News Anglia's Tanya Mercer met one mum affected by the change

Pregnant women giving birth at a hospital have been stopped from using gas and air - because of fears that it could be creating unsafe conditions.

Residual levels of nitrous oxide in the air of the maternity ward at Ipswich Hospital are too high, say bosses, sparking concerns that exposure could be harmful for staff who are exposed for prolonged periods.

Mothers-to-be like Holly Alexander, who is expecting her first baby, are worried about the lack of pain relief.

Ms Alexander has just gone on maternity leave and says she should be relaxing, but instead she is concerned about the lack of gas and air.

She said: "I'm a bit worried about having my first child. I don't know what to expect but when they don't know whether we can have that gas and air it's just the unknown.

"It's quite daunting really."

The mix of nitrous oxide gas and oxygen is often given as pain relief during labour. 

At Ipswich Hospital gas and air is administered via a cylinder rather than being piped in. This can leave residue left in the air and therefore nitrous oxide levels can build up.

Ipswich Hospital Credit: ITV Anglia

Experts say there is no risk to people and babies using the unit but prolonged exposure to the gas can be more of a risk for staff working in the maternity department. 

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said it was trying to resolve the issue.

“We received some mobile ventilation units but unfortunately these were unsuitable to be used in our maternity unit," said a spokesman. "We are now sourcing a different kind of mobile ventilation unit as well as other options to resolve the issue and reintroduce gas and air as soon as possible.

“Until there is a safe and effective solution, we are unable to reintroduce gas and air to ensure we keep our maternity team safe.”

Antenatal and hypnobirthing teacher Suze Mildinhall said several of her clients had changed hospitals because they were worried.

She said many of those about to give birth were concerned at the alternative pain relief being offered. 

"It's not a like-for-like swap that Ipswich are offering. There is no like-for-like swap of gas and air so that's going to give rise to people wanting to change hospitals because we deserve to have the birth that we want."

Basildon Hospital in Essex recently withdrew gas and air after an investigation into high levels of nitrous oxide. It was reinstated before Christmas after a new ventilation system was installed.

A spokesperson for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Basildon Hospital, said: “Significant improvements have been made and it is perfectly safe for service users to continue to use the maternity unit. We have taken action to resolve the situation and an investigation is under way.  Support and advice is being offered to our staff.”  

Ipswich Hospital said it hoped to have the new ventilation units in place within a couple of weeks.