Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Midwifery Under Fire

I have fought for decent maternity services since giving birth to my daughter at London’s Royal Free back in January 2007. I was always heartened to hear about the gold standard of care given by the Albany Group in Peckham, south London. It supports women to give birth wherever they choose – almost half give birth at home – and medical intervention rates are low. All women have their babies delivered by the midwife they first see and the group's caesarean and medical intervention rates are low. This is in great contrast to birth elsewhere on the NHS – as my own experience echoes.

However, the future of the Albany has been put in doubt after south London’s King's College Hospital terminated its contract, alleging that a disproportionate number of the babies it delivered suffered damage during the birth. Such brain damage can be caused during birth – for example, if the cord gets wrapped around the baby's neck – but it can also occur in the womb.

King's decided to terminate the contract after commissioning a report from the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE). It is claimed that the investigation was triggered by the death of Natan Kmiecik, one week after he was delivered at Kings by one of the Albany midwives. The parents' lawyers claimed proper procedures were not followed, because the baby's heartbeat was monitored only by a small hand-held device so she could have a water birth.

Supporters of the Albany group are outraged by what they consider an attack on the philosophy of independent midwifery and non-medicalised delivery. A vocal demonstration took place at the weekend outside the hospital, where women and children chanted: "Save the Albany".

"I'm very angry and very keen to see the Albany continue," said one. "This is just the beginning - the tip of the iceberg."

The fact is, birth on the NHS is in trouble. The existence if the Albany is in some ways an embarrasment to the medical establishment, highlighting as it does how wrong our general approach to birth is these days. We need a non-medicalised delivery setting to exist in order to remind us what birth can – and should – be like.
More demonstrations are planned and I hope to take part – along with my daughter, whose traumatic birth got me passionate about this issue in the first place.

Please get involved with the campaign and sign the petition:

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