Europe: Birthrate Down, Maternity Wards Packed

While much has been made in recent years over declining birthrates in Europe and other parts of the industrialized world, some Western countries’ are having difficulty providing adequate health care for the births they do have.

Britain’s maternity services are so bad they endanger the lives of mothers and babies, according to a report released this week by the nation’s Healthcare Commission.

The Independent reports that the study was the largest of its kind ever conducted in Britain, and involved all 150 maternity hospitals in England.

“I don’t ever again want to be reading another report into high death rates at a maternity unit,” Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the commission, told the newspaper.

One of the key problems cited by the report was a lack of midwives to help busy doctors and nurses — a shortage that was noted in a separate report earlier this year.

The problem is not a lack of qualified midwives, but a lack of paying jobs for them; according to the study, less than 10 percent of midwifery students nearing graduation this spring had secured employment.

Scottish newspaper The Herald quoted one midwife student near graduation as saying, “It seems extremely unlikely that I will be able to secure a permanent post on qualifying. I will be unable to consolidate the experience I have gained during my training, which is extremely disheartening, as the demands of the course on individuals and their families are huge.”

Meanwhile Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is experiencing a small baby boom, which is creating long waiting lists and overcrowding at city hospitals.

According to the Prague Post, the 2007 birthrate was the highest in 25 years, and hospitals have been unable to cope with the increase.

Some have declared their maternity wards booked through early next year, even if that means refusing to admit expectant mothers in the late stages of pregnancy.

“We want to be able to handle all births, but (after a certain number) we’re unable to provide new mothers with quality care at the appropriate standards,” Luka Rob, chief of gynecology and obstetrics at Motol Hospital, told the Post. “This situation became quite acute in the past year … We’ve received some complaints from mothers about the system, and they were often absolutely right.”

–Will Crain/


“Beating the delivery line”
The Prague Post, July 16, 2008

“Mothers at risk in care crisis”
Independent (U.K.), July 10, 2008

“Student midwives face uncertainty”
BBC News, May 4, 2008

“‘Morale at an all-time low’ say student midwives”
The Herald, May 5, 2008

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