Watching choice disappear

It was only about eight weeks ago that I was writing up good news. NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) confirmed that it’s safer for around half of women to give birth at home or in a midwife led unit.
Hooray, we thought… the evidence is out there, the cautious and well respected NICE is reinforcing the benefits and better outcomes found in a natural birth.
Since then, Calderdale Hospital Trust has failed to renew their consultant midwife’s contract and closed the long standing birth centre “temporarily” due to sickness rates. Also, the MAMs service in Airedale is shutting (this is breaking news so we have few details yet). And GPs have been sent a letter scaring them with unfounded concerns about local midwifery service 1-2-1, leading many to refuse to refer women wanting to use their services.
The debate about the guidelines was how we could increase access to natural birth to let everyone have the chance. But here in Yorkshire right now, women are being left without choices, without certainty and with the higher risks associated with hospital births: more interventions, much higher chances of a C-section, stressful environments that interrupt Oxytocin production and so on.
There are many complex reasons why any of these things are happening, but what I think links them is a clear lack of commitment to natural birth in commissioning, despite the guidelines.
Natural birth services are being seen as an ‘add on’ that can be dropped, because they aren’t closing labour wards! So can we hold commissioners to the guidelines? While health professionals get to make the final decision, “Healthcare and other professionals in the NHS are expected to take our clinical guidelines fully into account when exercising their professional judgement.” (NICE website) Therefore, we can argue that they aren’t taking guidelines fully into account if that’s what we believe, but we don’t have the right to overrule the commissioning judgement automatically.
When the future’s uncertain, one of the best things we can do is to keep sharing our experiences. The other thing we can all do is “ROAR”, as Sheena Byrom puts it. We’re organising petitions to make sure the health professionals making these decisions know that we care what happens to women during a very vulnerable experience. Here’s the link to the Calderdale petition.
Things we start to take for granted can disappear if we don’t roar.

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