Birthing centres: dangerous places to have a baby?

First-time mum Blair Barrett gave birth to her baby boy, Henry, on Tuesday 4 October, 2011. Tragically, Henry passed away on Thursday, two days later… 

A post mortem concluded that his death was due to oxygen deprivation sustained at the Barkantine Birthing Centre . After a detailed and lengthy legal investigation an out of court settlement was agreed with the Barts and Royal London NHS Trust, who administer the centre. Despite the damning evidence, it took nearly a year for the Trust to admit full liability. His death was a result of negligent treatment and was avoidable. Had he been monitored at a fully-equipped specialist unit, the outcome would have been different.

Blair was never advised that with a high BMI it would be much safer to have her baby in hospital. In the early hours of Tuesday 4 October, Blair went to the birthing centre with her husband as she was having contractions. After some time, Blair became concerned that something was going wrong and asked several times for a transfer to hospital for delivery. The midwife ignored her requests, and an ambulance was not called until around 5am the same day.

When Blair arrived at the hospital at around 6am the baby’s condition was checked. It was immediately realised that he was in danger, and he had to be delivered by emergency caesarean section. After sustained treatment, the baby suffered a seizure and was taken off monitors and ventilators. He was with Blair and her husband for almost 9 hours before he passed away in their arms. The parents were told that Henry had suffered oxygen deprivation for almost 30 minutes which, to them, showed that the delay in transfer to hospital had cost their baby his life.

Blair Barrett said:

“I am still angry at the treatment we received at the birthing centre, and their indifference to my fear and anxiety. I hope no one ever has to go through what my husband and I had to deal with, and no apology will ever make up for the unnecessary death of our first child. I want to warn other parents of the dangers they could be facing.  

The traumatic memories of this awful experience will last us for the rest of our lives, but we received amazing support and help from the Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) charity, who specialise in helping bereaved parents come to terms with the loss of a child. I am so happy that our baby daughter was born safely at the maternity unit of the Barts and Royal London hospital, where I knew we would receive the best in specialist care.”

Pattinson & Brewer, a national law firm specialising in medical negligence, are calling for investigations into birthing centres as they are seeing an unacceptably high incidence of avoidable death and poor care. Linda Levison, a partner, commented:

“Currently over 50% of our obstetric cases involve claims for births outside non-specialist units. The absence of obstetric  and paediatric support teams available to deal with complex medical emergency situations increases the risk to mothers and babies. However low risk a birth may appear, things can happen unexpectedly, and it makes sense to be where help is immediately available. A few minutes can make the difference between a normal life and severe brain damage or death. The safest place to have a baby is in the maternity unit of a local hospital which is equipped to deal quickly with the unexpected.”  


Editors note:

The mother gave birth to a healthy baby daughter a few weeks ago and is keen to tell her story to make sure other first time mothers ask the right questions before deciding where their baby should be born. If you would like to arrange an interview then please contact Denise Kitchener or Chris Theobald at the contact points below. Photographs of the children are also available.


Marcus Weatherby, News Releases,
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