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‘Difficult discussions’ as NHS faces shortage of childbirth pain relief

The NHS has been hit by a shortage of epidural kits to give mothers-to-be, a key form of pain relief during childbirth, as well as the drug that women are offered as an alternative.

Supplies of epidural kits and the painkiller Remifentanil are now under such pressure that some hospitals cannot offer pregnant women their usual right to choose which one they want to reduce labour pains.

Anaesthetists have told the Guardian that the simultaneous shortage of both forms of pain management has led to “difficult discussions” with women who had been told during their antenatal care that they would have that choice but were upset to learn that it was not available.

The disruption to supplies of epidural kits is so acute that NHS Supply Chain (NHSSC), the health service body that ensures hospitals in England and Wales receive regular supplies of drugs and equipment, to ration deliveries to just one week’s worth of stock.

Childbirth organisations voiced their concern and warned that the disruption to supplies meant some women in labour were already facing long delays before they received pain relief.

“Offering a choice of options during birth is an integral element of good maternity care, and this includes pain relief. It is concerning that the shortage of epidural kits and Remifentanil could be denying many that right”, said Jo Corfield, the NCT’s head of communications and campaigns.

“We don’t yet fully understand the impact this shortage is having but we have heard of long waiting times to receive pain relief and epidurals.”

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Source: The Guardian, 7 August 2022


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