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An investigation into Britain's maternity services
11.00-11.30am, Wednesday 7 and 14 February 2007
1.30-2.00pm, Sunday 1 and 8 April 2007 (rpt)

Penny Marshall tells the story of how the battle for birth has been waged between women, doctors and midwives over the last two centuries.

This war has shaped the maternity services in the UK today.

Penny talks to midwives, obstetricians, mothers and policy makers about the battles that have been fought to give women the maternity care they want.

Read personal stories from other listeners ...

Battle for Birth
Woman being prepared for a Caesarian Section

Programme 1

Today three percent of births take place at home, a far cry from the 1950s when nearly half the nation’s newborns were brought into the world by domiciliary midwives or GPs in the home. But giving birth at home could be a dangerous business. In the 1920s, 25,000 women in Britain died from causes related to maternity.

The Queen’s obstetrician, Sir John Peel, was the author of a 1970 report that revolutionised childbirth. His report stated that '100 percent of births should take place in hospital'. These rules were set up with the best intentions but there was no evidence to support them.

In the 1980s, just as our hospitals became the place for birth, women started to want choice over where and how to have their babies.

One female obstetrician, Wendy Savage, led the charge into battle in the mid 1980s when she challenged the rising number of Caesarean sections being performed in her London hospital. She was suspended for alleged incompetence but later exonerated.

Maternity services rose up the political agenda in the 1990s and the Government sought to respond to the call for more women-centred care and choice. Home births were back on the agenda in the 1993 Changing Childbirth report.

More than a decade later, however, women’s choices about how and where they give birth are still limited.

Listen again Listen again to programme 1
Penny Marshall
Penny Marshall

Programme 2

At Northwick Park Hospital on the outskirts of London, 10 women died in childbirth between 2002 and 2005. Subsequent investigations ruled that nine of these deaths were preventable.

What happened at Northwick Park Hospital sent shockwaves through every maternity hospital in the country, and has lead to deep soul searching and reviews of care, but today, two years on, there is still concern over the quality of care across the country.

In places there are chronic staff shortages, skill shortages, organisational and funding issues.

Managers battle to find staff, hospitals battle to find funds, and women battle to get choices in maternity care they want.
In the second part of the series, Penny Marshall asks could a Northwick Park tragedy happen again?

Listen again Listen again to programme 2
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