How do I know if I have received poor maternity care?

By Jason Brady

Pregnant women having an ultrasound

The standard of maternity care you receive can significantly impact your physical and mental well-being.

Poor maternity care can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety and helplessness. However, if you believe you have suffered poor care, there are steps you can take which may help in providing answers.

What constitutes poor maternity care?

There is almost an inexhaustible list of things that can construe poor or negligent maternity care. Examples include:

  • Failure to listen or act on a mother’s concern for her baby – such as reduced fetal movements
  • A shortage of staff impacting on the care being provided, for example, delaying a baby’s induction due to a lack of consultant availability
  • Failure to act in accordance with published guidelines or policy, i.e. insisting on a ‘normal vaginal’ birth without allowing a mother the chance to have an elective c-section
  • Incorrect use of assisted birth instruments such as forceps or a ventouse cup, causing injuries to your baby
  • Failure to diagnose dangerous conditions such as pre-eclampsia or jaundice.
  • Mistakes in delivery leading to your baby suffering oxygen deprivation.

In some instances, it will be evident that poor care has taken place and the hospital or NHS Trust may even notify you directly. This could be through a letter of apology or may result in a Serious Incident report being issued.

However, more commonly, parents are unsure whether their experience was due to poor or negligent care and can feel confused and helpless.

baby and mother holding handsWhat can be done about poor maternity care?

If you feel you or your partner received poor maternity care, there are a number of steps that can be taken.

  • If you are pregnant and are concerned about the level of care you are receiving, for example from your midwife, it is often most appropriate to raise this directly with your midwife. If you feel unable to speak to them directly about the care they are providing you should find the Head of Midwifery at your local Trust and contact them directly.
  • If you have given birth, the first step is to make a complaint against the hospital or NHS Trust who provided the care. Under the NHS Constitution, patients have a right to make a complaint about the care that they have received. Depending on where the care was provided the complaint should be directed at the relevant provider i.e. hospital, GP surgery. The NHS must investigate your complaint and should advise you of the steps that they will take during the course of your complaint.
  • Speaking to a specialist birth injury solicitor – If after making your complaint you still feel you have unanswered questions or did not receive the level of investigation you think you were entitled to, the advice of a specialist birth injury solicitor can be pivotal in securing answers, financial compensation and even private medical care.

Blackwater Law successfully represented the family of baby Blake in making a midwife negligence claim after the community midwife failed to notice a severe medical abnormality.

New-born baby in hospital

Poor maternity care doesn’t just occur during labour

Often there is a misconception that poor maternity care relates only to labour and giving birth, however, maternity care relates to the care you receive from the moment you find out you are pregnant through to after the birth.

Poor maternity care can relate to midwife appointments, ultrasound scans, the care provided at hospitals by consultants, obstetricians and midwives, as well as appointments post-birth.

It is also likely that poor care may relate to multiple elements, for example, a failure of a midwife to refer for additional scans, and the failure of the sonographer to identify a condition relating to either mother or baby.


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Maternity scandals across the NHS

It is well-publicised that NHS maternity wards are under increasing pressure and NHS England has committed an additional £95 million in funding for maternity services to improve safety and increase the number of midwives. A lack of funding increased staff turnover and other pressures, including the allocation of resources during the Coronavirus pandemic, have led to a rising number of NHS scandals and investigations including:

If your maternity care was provided by one of these NHS Trusts you understandably may have questions or concerns as to whether you were also affected by substandard care. However, the frequency of published maternity scandals paints a picture that unfortunately poor maternity care can occur anywhere.


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