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Gas and air ban in hospitals leaves mums-to-be in agony

When Amy Fantis gave birth to her first child two years ago, the labour was rapid, lasting only about four hours, and she was reliant on gas and air. Her second baby is due in just a few days — but the hospital has, like others around Britain, imposed a ban on the popular form of pain relief.

Fantis, 36, from Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, is one of many women affected by the decision of several NHS trusts to suspend the use of the gas because of fears that midwives and doctors have been exposed to unsafe levels for prolonged periods. In some hospitals, levels of the nitrous oxide and oxygen mix are more than 50 times higher than the safe workplace exposure limits.

In a survey of more than 16,600 women who gave birth last year, the Care Quality Commission found that 76% of respondents used gas and air at some point during labour.

Although short-term use of the gas in childbirth is harmless to women and their babies, long-term exposure for midwives and doctors can affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, damaging nerves and red blood cells and causing anaemia. It is not believed that any NHS staff have become ill as a result of long-term exposure to gas and air.

NHS England and the Health and Safety Executive recently warned other hospitals that they need to check the ventilation on maternity wards and ensure staff are kept safe. NHS England is planning to send out new guidance to trusts on the issue after a series of hospitals had to stop using the gas.

Read full story (paywalled)

Source: The Times, 25 February 2023


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