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Pandemic changes affected maternity care for women who had stillbirths

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Changes to maternity services during the pandemic, including the mandatory redeployment of midwives and doctors to care for infected patients, may have affected the care given to women who had stillborn babies, a Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) investigation has found.

The safety watchdog launched an investigation after the number of stillbirths after the onset of labour increased between April and June 2020. During the three months there were 45 stillbirths compared to 24 in the same period in 2019.

The HSIB launched a probe examining the care of 37 cases. Among its findings the watchdog said staffing levels were affected because of the NHS response to the pandemic.

In its report it said this “influenced normal work patterns and the consistency and availability of clinicians.”

As an example, in one maternity unit the staffing numbers were short by three midwives due to sickness and redeployment. In another consultant presence was reduced overnight.

During the pandemic both the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians criticised NHS trusts for redeploying maternity staff when mothers continued to need services regardless of the pandemic.

HSIB said none of the women in its report were recorded as having the virus, but it found the pressures and changes as a result of the pandemic may have affected the care they received.

The study stressed that the proportion of consultations undertaken remotely was not known and "the impact of remote consultations is not clear from this review".

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Source: The Independent, 16 September 2021

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