Pregnant women and new mothers died needlessly in lockdown, Oxford University report finds

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Pregnant women and new mothers died needlessly in lockdown after being denied intensive care beds or mental health services, Oxford University report finds

  • Study looked into cases of 16 women who died between March and May this year
  • The report noted that a ‘lack of intensive care beds was repeatedly documented’
  • It also criticised access to ‘appropriate mental health care’ during the pandemic 
  • Chief midwife for England said that midwives will ‘always seek to learn lessons’

Pregnant women and new mothers died needlessly in lockdown after being denied intensive care beds or mental health services, an Oxford University report has found.

The study, titled ‘Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care’, looked into the cases of 16 women who died in the UK between March and May this year.

It said eight died from Covid-19, six from respiratory complications of the virus and one from cerebral thrombotic complications. Two other women had contracted the infection but died from unrelated causes.

Four women died by suicide, including two who were still pregnant, and two were killed by their partners.

The study, titled ‘Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care’, looked into the cases of 16 pregnant women and new mothers who died between March and May this year (file photo)

The report, published yesterday, criticised a lack of intensive care beds and access to mental health care during the pandemic.

Referring to the women who died from Covid-19, it said: ‘It was noted that a lack of high dependency or intensive care beds was repeatedly documented, the implication being that high dependency or intensive care could not be provided elsewhere. 

‘Although assessors recognised that there were very high pressures on critical care services at the time of this woman’s death, as these enquiries have noted previously, critical care supportive treatment should always occur if beds are not immediately available.’

On the four women who died by suicide over the three months, it added: ‘It was evident that changes to service provision as a direct consequence of the pandemic meant that women were not able to access appropriate mental health care. 

‘Receipt of the specialist care they needed may have prevented their deaths.’

It said that both of the women who were killed by their partners ‘needed safeguarding’, and recommended the guidance be updated to explain that actions such as moving to a place of safety should still be followed during lockdown.

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent (above), the chief midwifery-officer for England, said midwives will 'always seek to learn lessons'

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent (above), the chief midwifery-officer for England, said midwives will ‘always seek to learn lessons’

The report also pointed out that the majority of pregnant women who died from Covid-19 were from an ethnic minority background.

The reviewers added: ‘Women are also at particular risk of complications of Covid-19 if they have other medical problems such as hypertension, diabetes or obesity. 

‘It is particularly important that women in these groups are advised to seek help early.’

In response to the study, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, the chief midwifery-officer for England, noted that the NHS safely delivered over 160,000 babies in the pandemic.

She said there was a 30 per cent increase in women accessing mental health support in April and the NHS ‘stepped up extra support’ after it became evident women from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds were at a higher risk while giving birth during the crisis.

Ms Dunkley-Bent added: ‘While the overwhelming majority of women receive safe care for them and their baby, midwives will always seek to learn lessons and make care even safer, and my thoughts and condolences are with the families involved in this report.’ 



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