A FIFTH of NHS maternity services funding is spent on insurance against clinical negligence, according to a report.
Hospital trusts paid £482m for cover last year, the equivalent of £700 per birth, the National Audit Office (NAO) found.
The Public Accounts Committee’s chair, Margaret Hodge, said the sum was “absolutely scandalous” while the Royal College of Midwives claimed it highlighted the need for more midwives to deliver safe, high-quality care.
The most common reasons for maternity claims are mistakes in the management of labour or Caesarean sections and errors resulting in cerebral palsy, the NAO report states.
The report also highlights a “wide unexplained variation” in complication rates between hospitals. In some hospitals, up to 1.6 per cent of women are re-admitted as an emergency after having a baby compared to 0.5 per cent in others.
Infection rates in newborns range from 0.6 per cent of babies born in some hospitals compared to 4.2 per cent in others.
The report also highlights a shortage of midwives and consultants on labour wards. During 2012 there was a shortfall of around 2,300 midwives, the authors said.
More than half of units were not meeting the levels of consultant presence recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The authors also said that more needs to be done to address the number of stillbirths in England, where one in 133 babies was stillborn or died within several days of birth in 2011.
Health Minister Dan Poulter said there were now 1,300 more midwives than in 2010 and with 5,000 now in training, their numbers were increasing twice as quickly as the birth rate.
But Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham warned too many maternity units were still struggling without enough staff.