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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 14:56 GMT
Midwife workload blasted by coroner
The coroner criticised staffing arrangements
A coroner has raised concerns about the pressures on overworked midwives after ruling that neglect contributed to the death of a baby.

Birmingham coroner Dr Richard Whittington heard how Thomas Harris died 35 minutes after his birth at the city's Heartlands Hospital in August 1998.

He said he was "horrified and astounded" to learn of the hours worked by midwives at the hospital.

Should we be submitted to the care of people that are shattered after a 16 hour shift?

Dr Richard Whittington, Birmingham coroner
The midwife helping with the delivery of the baby had already worked an 11 hour shift and eventually completed a 16 hour day.

Thomas died due to lack of oxygen, and Dr Whittington recorded a verdict of death by natural causes aggravated by neglect.

He told the hearing: "The extraordinarily long hours being worked by midwives at any one time causes me considerable concern.

"Isn't it true every midwife has two lives to concern her - the baby and the mother?

"Should we be submitted to the care of people that are shattered after a 16 hour shift? Is this right?"

He added: "If you were on an aircraft would you want the pilot of your plane to have been working for 12 hours or more non-stop?"

The Royal College of Midwives, which represents the profession, echoed his call for a cut in hours.

A spokesman said: "Midwives throughout the country work under extreme pressures. They work long shifts followed by night shifts for very little money."

She called on the government to introduce more family friendly working conditions to boost the number of midwives.

"If you want to bring back staff who have left the service because they are fed up with the NHS then better working conditions are a must."

Changes made

A statement by the trust said that changes had been made to shift patterns in the wake of the tragedy.

The statement read: "Our sympathies go out to Mr and Mrs Harris, though we appreciate that nothing we say will bring Thomas back.

"Important changes in management of staff have been made.

"Guidance has been given to staff on shift patterns and the amount of hours above the contract hours each midwife can work and we have employed more midwives.

"Doctors are now permanently available in the delivery suite."

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See also:

30 Jul 99 | Health
Midwife shortage: The reaction
28 Aug 99 | Health
The changing face of childbirth
06 Oct 99 | Health
NHS still losing nurses
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