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Labour ward staffing shortages restrict use of beneficial drug

Staffing shortages are likely to restrict the use of a beneficial painkiller in birthing suites, even once its use has been recommended by national guidance.

Research by HSJ suggests that just over half of trusts are already offering remifentanil to women in labour, although some are having to restrict its use due to lack of staffing.

Responses to freedom of information requests from 108 trusts revealed 55 offered remifentanil during labour in 2022-23.

Recent draft National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on intrapartum care, published in April, suggested healthcare professionals “consider intravenous remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia” in obstetric units. This is partly because it reduces the likelihood of forceps or ventouse being required compared to intramuscular pethidine (an opioid commonly used in labour).

However, the drug is not yet mentioned in official NICE guidelines and the opioid’s use in labour is currently off-label (its more common licenced use is alongside anaesthesia in surgery). A Royal College of Anaesthetists spokesperson said the use of drugs off-label “is extremely common in obstetrics given that drug trials do not often include pregnant women”.

Read full story (paywalled)

Source: HSJ, 1 September 2023


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