Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

More Midwives Can Save Lives

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

More Midwives Can Save Lives

Article excerpt

CHILDBIRTH, once a mortal danger, is now safe for almost all mothers; in Britain, just one woman in 8,775 dies having a baby. So the past performance of the maternity unit at Northwick Park hospital in north west London is shocking. In April last year, the Healthcare Commission was called in to investigate maternity services there after 10 women died during pregnancy and labour between 2002 and 2005.

In a damning report published today, the Commission, a health watchdog, reiterates that poor quality of care, weak leadership and inadequate risk management were to blame in nine of the ten cases. It also says that there have been significant improvements in the services it provides, especially following the recruitment of three new consultants and 20 midwives.

What is regrettable is that it should have taken so long, and so many women's deaths, to have brought this progress. It is clear from the Commission's report that there was an entire working culture at the hospital which contributed to the deaths. There was over-reliance on agency staff, without proper senior support. Difficult decisions were left to junior staff, and the hospital had inadequate resources to cope when a mother's condition changed suddenly. Worst of all, when mistakes were made, the hospital failed to learn from them, and they were repeated.

These unnecessary deaths show that hospitals must urgently address the well-documented shortage of midwives - Northwick Park's improvement is directly linked to the recruitment of more of them. Especially when maternity units are crowded, hospitals need to monitor women closely for any signs of complications. Only proper numbers of midwives can do that: as this tragic case shows, the risks of standards slipping can still too easily prove fatal.

Iran's ambitions

IRAN WAS, famously, part of what President Bush identified as the "axis of evil", along with Iraq and North Korea. Of the three, it has done by far the best since then in projecting its interests.

A new report from Chatham House, the institute for international affairs, has pointed out that Iran has profited from the United States' Middle Eastern policy by virtue of the overthrow of its greatest enemy, Saddam Hussein, and the removal of its regional rival, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. …

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