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The Green Party’s irresponsible childbirth “policy”

A 2022 report concluded that mothers and babies are harmed – not helped – by a lower incidence of Caesarean sections.

By Hannah Barnes

It seems the Green Party hasn’t read the conclusions of any of the official reports into the scandal-ridden maternity units at Morecambe Bay, Shrewsbury and Telford, or East Kent. Yesterday, an apparent Green Party policy circulated on social media, which expressed concern at the increasing incidence of “medical intervention” in childbirth. Or, put another way: an anxiety about falling rates of so-called normal births.

The language of “normal” or “natural” births was formally dropped by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in 2017. But according to 2012 guidance – produced by RCM, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – these births were defined as those “without induction, without the use of instruments, not… Caesarean section and without general, spinal or epidural anaesthetic before or during delivery”.

As I have written before, this guidance – which called for health professionals to increase vaginal, drug-free deliveries and keep Caesarean section rates low – has undoubtedly harmed women and their babies. Take, for example, Dr Bill Kirkup’s 2015 report into the Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust scandal – in which the deaths of one mother and 11 babies were linked to major care failures. Kirkup described an increasing inclination from midwives to pursue “normal” childbirth “at any cost”. In Donna Ockenden’s damning 2022 report on Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital – where hundreds of babies were left brain damaged or dead – she highlighted how the maternity unit had been praised for its lower than average Caesarean-section rate. “Some mothers and babies had been harmed by this approach,” she concluded.

The Green Party’s 2024 policy does not appear to have taken this on board. Their website yesterday read: “We will work to reduce the number of interventions in childbirth, and change the culture of the NHS so that birth is treated as a normal and non-medical event.” There appears to be a particular focus on reducing the number of Caesareans, which they describe as “expensive” and “when not medically required, risky.”

I say they “appear” to have failed to heed the conclusions of the Morecambe Bay and Shrewsbury and Telford reports, because the above “policy” statement has since vanished from the website (after a lot of criticism on social media). The party told me this is to avoid confusion over “our very detailed policy chapters (which reflect votes by members at conference) and what actually makes it into our manifesto”.

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Ockenden, a highly experienced midwife who is now leading another investigation into poor maternity services in Nottingham, posted online that she had never spoken to anyone in the party about the policy. In a separate message she suggested to the Greens that they read her previous reports into Shrewsbury and Telford, the recent findings from the all-party parliamentary group on birth trauma, and Shaista Gohir’s report, “Invisible”.

“Nobody would take issue with the fact that pregnancy and birth are natural processes,” the Green Party’s health spokesperson, Dr Pallavi Devulapalli, told the New Statesman in a statement. “What is equally beyond doubt is that advances in healthcare have made childbirth vastly safer and improved outcomes for both women and children. It is vital that all women are given all the support they need to have a good outcome. And this can of course include medical intervention where appropriate and necessary.”

Women who have given birth over the past decade – and their partners – may think a little differently.

[See also: The real reason Rishi Sunak’s national service plan is unhinged]

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