NHS Trust apologises after staff were exposed to dangerous levels of nitrous oxide

The Care Quality Commission inspected maternity services at the hospital in June.
Basildon Hospital where staff were exposed to nitrous oxide on its maternity unit Credit: PA

An NHS trust in Essex has been accused of not acting quickly enough to protect its staff from exposure to nitrous oxide in a maternity unit.

An independent review concluded there was an 'unacceptable delay' in Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust’s response to dangerous levels of the gas at Basildon University Hospital's maternity unit.

The review, conducted by the Good Governance Institute, also found the trust 'failed to act with candour and transparency' over the incident.

The report's authors wrote: "There was an unacceptable delay in responding to and mitigating a serious risk that had been reported into the levels of nitrous oxide on the Basildon University Hospital maternity unit.

"As a result, midwives and other staff on the maternity unit were exposed to unnecessary risk or potential harm."

The review states the levels of nitrous oxide – also known as Entonox or 'gas and air' – found on the ward needed to be treated as a significant risk to health when concerns were first raised in July 2021.

But this was not done until October 2022.

Gas and air is used by many women during labour Credit: PA

The NHS maternity survey for 2022 shows 76% of women used nitrous oxide during their labour.

While there are no harmful side effects to using gas and air for a mother or baby, prolonged exposure can lead to health issues.

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Matthew Hopkins said: "While we now have robust systems in place and are confident that nitrous oxide levels are well within the safe limits, it is simply not acceptable that we took so long to act.

"We committed to commissioning an independent investigation to fully understand what went wrong and how we could ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

"I would like to sincerely apologise to the staff in the unit and thank them for their patience and their unwavering commitment to the families who use our maternity service."

A Trust spokesperson said the organisation had made an action plan to address the recommendations set out in the report and had also commissioned a separate governance review.

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