Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Call for reform after hospital drops Albany Midwives

Mothers with babies delivered by Albany Midwives
Albany Midwives enable women to give birth where they choose

A former health minister has called for a radical shake-up of maternity care after a group of south London midwives had its contract terminated.

King's College Hospital terminated the contract with Albany Midwives after a report found babies they delivered had a tenfold risk of serious illness.

Baroness Cumberlege said hospitals find midwifery "uncomfortable", so primary care trusts should hold the contracts.

Peckham-based Albany Midwives declined to discuss the findings of the report.

The independent Albany Midwives enable women to give birth where they choose, with almost half opting to have their babies at home.

King's College Hospital ended its contract with the group in December following a report the hospital commissioned from the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries.

'Lack of trust'

The report's findings were made available to BBC London following a Freedom of Information request.

It found the number of babies born with "serious morbidities" was "comparatively tenfold greater" among babies delivered by Albany Midwives compared to those delivered by midwives employed directly by the hospital.

The report also found that some staff at King's College Hospital regarded the midwives with "clinical suspicion" and there was an "openly antagonistic relationship" between them.

It recommended more education, training and support for the midwives to overcome the "mutual lack of trust and professional respect".

Dozens of mothers subsequently protested outside the Department of Health in support of Albany Midwives.

Annie Francis from Independent Midwives UK said the termination of Albany Midwives' contract also caused "great concern" and "anxiety" among midwives.

(Midwifery) is very different, it is very woman-centred, and that doesn't always fit nicely into a trust policy or hierarchy
Baroness Cumberlege

She said: "There is a sense that because the Albany is different and they work in a different way, they are putting their heads above the parapet in some way and are being penalised for that."

Baroness Cumberlege said the situation highlighted a need to make primary care trusts responsible for midwife contracts.

She said: "It will be the primary care trusts who see things in a much wider perspective than a hospital who often finds this form of care very uncomfortable.

"It is very different, it is very woman-centred, and that doesn't always fit nicely into a trust policy or hierarchy."

A King's College Hospital spokesman said it was committed to midwifery-led care for women.

He added: "We also believe strongly in giving women the right to choose a home birth.

"At 9%, King's has one of the best records of home birth in the country."

In a separate report, on Thursday the Nursing & Midwifery Council warned that Britain's rising birth rate was leading to a "significant" national shortfall in the number of midwives.

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