Non-emergency C-sections are among the essential care that striking doctors are not covering this week, leaving expectant mothers feeling like they have “lost all control.”
The coordinated strike will see consultants and junior doctors go on strike for three consecutive days in what is likely to be the most disruptive NHS strike yet.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said it will provide “Christmas Day cover”, which includes only emergency care, and NHS bosses have said it will “almost paralyse” the health service.
This means that pregnant women face having their C-sections canceled, regardless of whether a doctor or surgeon has recommended it due to a previous delivery or a complication.
‘Violation of human rights standards’
One charity warned that “any deviation from the planned birth could compromise her safety”, while another said forcing a woman to have a vaginal birth could constitute “a breach of human rights laws”.
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, claimed that the doctors’ union had “repeatedly refused to allow some junior doctors to provide essential care when local clinical leaders deemed it necessary”.
Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of the Mid and South Essex Foundation Trust, said the strikes were “delaying births for mothers, because we are now seeing delays in being able to perform our elective caesarean sections”.
An anonymous pregnant woman said her cesarean section scheduled for this week, the 39th week of her pregnancy, was canceled.
“They told me I shouldn’t go over my due date. The earliest replacement date is more than a week after my due date,” she told Sky News.
“I feel like I’ve lost all control of labor now because I think they’ll push me for an induction before scheduling a C-section if I haven’t gone into labor.”
Planned C-sections are usually scheduled for the 39th week of pregnancy, before the mother goes into labor.
‘Any deviation from the planned delivery could compromise safety’
Shanthi Gunesekera, co-chief executive of the charity Birthrights, said: “Substantially delaying or canceling planned caesarean sections without adequate communication and without due consideration to individual circumstances may result in a breach of human rights laws.”
Twins Trust, a body for parents expecting multiple births, said: “The timing of birth is directly linked to the safety of the baby in the event of multiple births. “Any deviation from the planned delivery could compromise your safety.”
Professor Phil Banfield, chair of the BMA council, said: “Obstetricians are used to reprioritising how and when women are scheduled for induction of labor or caesarean section, based on changing circumstances or workloads.
“Consultant-led maternity services maintain the ability to perform a caesarean section or induction of labor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
Hopkins added: “We take delays in planned caesarean deliveries very seriously. “Our first concern is the safety of women and their babies, and our clinical teams consider all options before postponing planned cesarean deliveries.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth for all women.
“During the strike, the NHS will prioritize resources to protect emergency care and neonatal and maternity services.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “General practice teams have experienced record demand for their services, with half a million more appointments each week compared to before the pandemic.
“The NHS is committed to improving patient access, which is why we published our primary care access recovery plan in May, which included historic support for GP patients and surgeries.”