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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 05:03 GMT 06:03 UK
Maternity care failings debated
The Royal College of Midwives says the care of women is at risk
MPs are to debate growing concerns over failings in NHS maternity services.

It comes ahead of a BBC Panorama programme which shows the pressure hospitals are under and claims wards are buckling under a midwife shortage.

In the programme, a reporter, posing as a volunteer, discovers a woman in labour being left in a corridor because there are no beds.

The government says maternity services are safer than ever and that it is up to trusts to decide on staffing levels.

BBC correspondent Sophie Hutchinson said the programme, which uses hidden cameras, paints "an extremely dismal picture" of NHS maternity services.

We spoke to women across the UK who reported problems similar to those that we saw undercover
Hayley Cutts

At another hospital the undercover reporter worked at, a vital baby heart monitor had to be shared between 25 expectant mothers.

And some families are shown giving harrowing accounts of how they believe poor care has led to their baby's disability or even death.

Undercover reporter Hayley Cutts said: "We spoke to women across the UK who reported problems similar to those that we saw undercover so there's no reason to believe that they just apply to the two hospitals that we went into.

"In its last report on this issue - Maternity Matters - the government didn't make any specific commitment to more midwives.

"It says it's leaving it up to trusts to decide on staffing levels."

'Pared back'

The programme will do little to dampen the concerns of opposition MPs who argue that a shortage of midwives has sparked a crisis.

But the government insists the UK remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to have a baby and that increased investment will see the number of midwives rise.

Earlier this year, the Royal College of Midwives reported that maternity services were being pared back, putting the care of women at risk.

A poll of 102 out of 216 department heads found two-thirds thought their units were understaffed and one in five had lost staff in the last year.

The Royal College of Midwives estimates the profession needs another 3,000 midwives in the coming years.

Wayne Coyne's baby daughter Caitlin died after she was starved of oxygen during an emergency Caesarean in hospital three years ago.

An independent inquiry recommended 24 areas where there was room for improvement at the unit which might have contributed to Caitlin's death.

He said: "The lack of midwivery care is not due to the fact that we have bad midwives. It is the fact that they are put under so much pressure these days.

"Midwives are looking after two, or maybe three mothers at the same time. They are struggling."

Panorama: Midwives Undercover will be broadcast on BBC One on Thursday at 2000 BST.

Undercover filming in one maternity ward


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