Hospitals are running low on epidurals for mothers-to-be: Some patients are given no choice over pain relief in delivery room amid shortage
- Supplies of epidural kits and the painkiller Remifentanil are both running low
- Mothers-to-be believed they would be able to choose their pain relief but were told they no longer had a choice
- The charity Birthrights claimed the limited access to pain relief could be a breach of the Human Rights Act
- Smiths Medical has been unable to manufacture its usual number of epidural kits for several months
Women are being denied a choice of pain relief during labour due to a shortage of epidural kits and the drug offered as an alternative, doctors have warned.
Supplies of the kits and the painkiller Remifentanil are so low that some NHS hospitals are denying women their usual right to choose which one they would prefer.
Anaesthetists said this has led to ‘difficult discussions’ with mothers-to-be who had been told that they would have a choice – but were later upset to learn that this was not the case.
And the National Childbirth Trust last night warned the disruption meant some women in labour are facing long delays before receiving pain relief.
Women are being denied the choice of an epidural or Remifentanil during labour which could mean the NHS is falling foul of the Human Rights Act (file image)
Francesca Treadaway, of the charity Birthrights, claimed this could mean that the NHS is falling foul of the Human Rights Act.
She said: ‘Limited access to pain relief without good reason could be seen as a breach of the Human Rights Act.
‘Article 3 prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment… If midwives or doctors fail to provide care which is needed to avoid preventable suffering, such as pain relief, this could be inhuman or degrading treatment.’
The disruption to supplies is so severe that the NHS Supply Chain is rationing deliveries to just one week’s worth of stock, The Guardian reported.
The Government last month published its Women’s Health Strategy, which vowed to do more to raise the quality of women’s care on the NHS and to ensure they were not ignored or left in pain.
An epidural is a procedure during which an anaesthetist gives a woman in labour nerve-blocking drugs through a plastic tube into the ‘epidural space’ in her back.
The NHS Supply Chain has issued six warnings about the shortages of epidural kits made by Smiths Medical – a major supplier – since April 29, especially those that use a ‘loss of resistance’ syringe during the procedure.
Smiths Medical has been unable to manufacture its usual number of epidural kits for several months amid a worldwide lack of the blue dye used to distinguish epidural syringes from other types.
This has led to a global shortage of the kits – and the problem has been exacerbated by low supplies of the drug Remifentanil, a short-acting opioid.
One doctor in the north of England warned: ‘These shortages are worrying for clinicians across the country.’
The Department of Health said: ‘We routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients.’