Panorama – One Born Every 40 Seconds

The UK is in the middle of a baby boom. Last year’s birthrate was the highest for 20 years. Nearly 800,000 babies were born; that’s one birth every 40 seconds. At the same time, though, births are getting more complex and there’s a chronic shortage of midwives in some parts of the UK. Some maternity units are struggling to cope with the demand and some women aren’t getting the care they deserve.

Panorama has commissioned a unique survey of every maternity unit in the UK to find out just how widespread the problems are. From staff shortages to ward closures, the results paint a worrying picture of a service stretched to breaking-point in some hospitals. The UK has one of the highest stillbirth rates in the developed world and new evidence suggests the cost of negligence claims against the NHS for mistakes made during labour is soaring.

Reporter Shelley Jofre visits one maternity unit that has turned itself around from the point of crisis. She also hears from families who feel their care was tragically compromised when staff simply didn’t have the time to give the level of care they and their babies needed.

Heather Paterson and Iain Croft’s baby, Riley, died after a series of errors in an over-stretched London hospital. Heather tells the programme: “I was a healthy woman. I had a healthy baby. And so you expect that you’ll walk out of that hospital the next day with your child. And to not do that was devastating.”

The government promises women a choice of high-quality, safe maternity care. Before the last general election, the Conservatives promised 3,000 new midwives in England to cope with the rising birth rate but the Royal College of Midwives says it has failed to deliver. The RCM says 4,500 midwives are needed to provide a proper service.

Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the RCM, says: “I think for midwives now the pressure is relentless and none of us can really keep our standards as high as they should be if, day after day, we’re working under extreme pressure.”

Yet in Scotland – where the devolved government controls health policy – funding decisions mean there is no midwife shortage. The programme visits a Scottish maternity unit where one-to-one care for women in labour is guaranteed.

Monday 25 July
8.30-9.00pm BBC ONE