Page last updated at 03:55 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Maternity services for obese women 'not good enough'

Midwife and baby
New guidelines are being issued to the NHS

Maternity services for obese women are not good enough and may be putting mothers-to-be at risk, experts warn.

The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries said units were short of basic equipment like extra-wide operating tables and beds.

Its poll of UK services also showed obese pregnant women were not getting the right advice and assessments.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the UK remained "one of the safest countries in the world to have a baby".

The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries, an independent research group which is partly funded by the NHS, said it had teamed up with doctors to issue new guidelines to the NHS on treating obese mothers-to-be

These cover issues such as what assessments, support and advice should be given to the women.

Obesity has gone up so fast that services are struggling to keep up
Dr Jo Modder, lead researcher

It has also asked services to ensure they have clear policies and the right resources in place.

Obese mothers-to-be are at higher risk of a wide variety of complications, including stillbirths, diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

They are also more likely to need caesareans and should therefore have assessments during pregnancy to see what special arrangements may have to be put in place.

But the survey, which gathered information from 320 maternity units as well as a range of other midwife and obstetric services that come into contact with pregnant women, showed only half of places always offered these assessments.

Only a third gave specific diet advice while 60% of maternity units did not have central records of what equipment they had available.

And nearly half did not have official policies and guidelines for treating obese patients, the group said.

Rising rates

The findings come amid rising rates of obesity in pregnancy. One in five mothers-to-be are obese - double the proportion from a decade ago.

GP Dr Rosemary Leonard and Obstetrics consultant Dr Maggie Blott discuss issues affecting obese preganant women

Lead researcher Dr Jo Modder said the current standard of services could "potentially be putting women at risk".

She added: "Obesity has gone up so fast that services are struggling to keep up. I think services could be improved to provide more appropriate care."

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which helped draw up the guidelines, agreed the NHS needed to do more.

But he added obese women also needed support to be encouraged to lead healthier lives before becoming pregnant.

"The long-term challenge is behavioural."

Professor Cathy Warwick, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "NHS trusts should be looking at what works and learning from each other to ensure the highest standards of care are available."

The Department of Health spokeswoman said: "It's vital that obese pregnant women are able to receive specialist advice, support and risk management throughout their pregnancy."

But she stressed that the UK was one of the safest nations in which a woman could give birth.

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