Babies in Peril

Daily Mirror
By John Pilger

Tuesday 13 September 1977

Mothers and babies in a busy maternity unit are facing “extreme danger” – but health officials have nothing about if for nine months.

During all that time the unit has stayed open. Yet the risks are so grave that one doctor told me:

“I wouldn’t allow my own daughter anywhere near the wretched place.”

A senior consultant working at the unit said: “ I am worried sick every day and every night that I shall lose a mother or a baby. I have given the administrators repeated warnings, but the situation is unchanged.”

I learned off these warnings after completing a television documentary which was shown on ITV last night. The programme grew out of the Mirror’s campaign to reveal the often dangerous and irreparable effects that Government cutbacks are having on the Health Service.

I have also since learned that at least one consultant has refused to work at the unit because of the dangers to mothers and babies.

The unit is the Mothers’ Hospital, and old Salvation Army place in Hackney, East London. Cash-starved Hackney Hospital has sent its expectant mothers there since its maternity block was closed down last Christmas. There is no resuscitation team at the Mothers’ Hospital and no anaesthetist. Yet both are considered basic for life-saving at any hospital, because heart failure or birth difficulties can quickly lead to death.

When there is an emergency – that is when a mother and baby are in potential danger – an anaesthetist at the main hospital several miles away has to call a mini-cab, wait sometimes an hour or more, then travel through often heavy traffic before he can attempt to save lives.

The infant mortality rate for Hackney is twenty five per cent above the national average.

Dr Frederick Lancaster the senior consultant anaesthetist at Hackney, told me “The administration told us that the maternity block was being closed in order to rebuild it. I warned them of the great risks that they were taking, and I was promised that the Mothers’ Hospital would be used for six months only.

“We now know that this is a permanent situation until Hackney gets its long-promised hospital – in the 1980s.”

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