The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has called upon the NHS to make sure pain relief is available to ‘every woman who wants it, provided it is safe to do so’. Guidelines regarding epidurals during childbirth are being breached by healthcare professionals, according to the Department of Health and Social Care .
Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, commented on the situation, saying, ‘What the RCM, our midwife members and our maternity services are focused on is ensuring women have the best possible experience of pregnancy and birth,’ said Gill Walton, RCM chief executive. ‘This includes supporting women to have the birth, and pain relief that is right for them.’
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that epidurals should be available at any point during childbirth and the national standard is that, on request, one should be provided within 30 minutes to one hour. However, an investigation by the Department of Health and Social Care has made clear that this is not always the case. To address these concerns, health minister Nadine Dorries is to write to all the heads and directors of midwifery at NHS trusts, reminding them of the official guidelines for childbirth and pain relief.
The NHS is facing crucial healthcare staff shortages, including midwives and anaesthetists, and this is contributing to the prevalence of broken protocol when it comes to pain relief during childbirth. However, increasing anecdotal evidence indicates that many women are being denied access to epidurals, as a result of the personal beliefs of the attending healthcare professional regarding ‘natural birth’ and the necessity of pain relief.
Dr David Bogod, council member of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said that ‘some midwives will use the excuse that an anaesthetist isn’t available if they themselves feel an epidural isn’t appropriate for the woman based on their own beliefs around intervention-free births.’ However, he also pointed out that these occurrences are not ‘common or regular’ and that, most often, a woman is denied an epidural due to the staffing issues that the NHS is facing. In response, Ms Walton clarified the position of the RCM on the matter, saying: ‘Every woman who wants an epidural should be given one if it is safe for her to do so.’ The decision relies on a discussion with the midwife, the anaesthetist and the wider maternity team to ensure ‘she makes the right choice for her and her child’.