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Not enough midwives now and even fewer in future – where is the justice?

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the number of cases of catastrophic injuries caused by medical accidents at birth started to rise in the next few years.

Injuries caused by difficulties in delivery may be due to a combination of mechanical trauma and hypoxia and may be minor and transient but they can produce serious and permanent effect, such as brachial plexus injury and cerebral palsy, as well as being fatal. Expert care by experienced midwives can minimise the risks involved in difficult and traumatic labour and delivery. But there may just not be enough experienced – or even any – midwives to go around.

The Royal College of Midwives’ general secretary Cathy Warwick told the union’s annual conference in Manchester that Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg had promised to increase midwife numbers by 3,000, only to scrap the policy this week. Warwick said: “We are incredibly disappointed. There are still not enough midwives to cope with the birth rate which has risen dramatically over the last few years. There are not enough midwives to cope with the growing complexity of pregnancies, and nowhere near enough midwives to make the policy goals of more choice, individualised care and equitable care a reality.”

The Royal College of Midwives has estimated that nearly 27,000 jobs could be cut across the NHS over the next four years – despite the Government’s promise to protect NHS spending over the same period. In the last few years the number of midwives in England and Wales rose by just under 9 per cent, from 18,048 to 19,639, against a birth rate which is up by 19 per cent between 2001 and 2008. A survey of NHS trusts by the Royal College of Midwives last week found that a total of 26,841 jobs were “at risk” as they seek to reduce wage bills to make £20 billion of efficiency savings.

To add to the heartbreak and desperation of an injured baby’s parents, who believe they are the victims of a medical mistake, proposed cuts to legal aid will mean they are less likely to be able to access justice. Their working lives may be over, through no fault of their own, but they will have to find a lawyer who will take on their child’s medical negligence case on a “no win, no fee” basis and are likely to have to pay a substantial amount of the compensation intended to care and provide accommodation for their injured baby in legal fees.

Jo is a Partner specialising in catastrophic personal injury and clinical negligence claims.

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