• Bill Kirkup has spoken out over polarised debate
  • Warning follows RCM decision to abandon ‘normal birth’ campaign
  • Echoes of RCM’s “normal birth” advice in events at Morecambe Bay, Dr Kirkup says

The chair of the Morecambe Bay inquiry has warned the polarised debate around ‘natural’ childbirth could harm safe care for mothers and babies.

Bill Kirkup said the Royal College of Midwives’ change in stance was “welcome”. There were echoes in what it had advised midwives to do of what he found on the wards at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, he said.

Writing on hsj.co.uk today, Dr Kirkup, who led the investigation into poor maternity care at Furness General Hospital, said he was “dismayed” by the response to the decision by the RCM to abandon its “normal birth” campaign.

He warned: “There is no reason to suppose that in the majority of units, women are not being supported to make appropriate choices, including birth with minimal or no intervention.”

Dr Kirkup, who was also part of the panel that investigated the Hillsborough disaster, said: “It is vital that we stop polarising this argument, and drop the scaremongering claims on both sides. Safety is not inimical to a good experience of childbirth, and informed choice is not inimical to safety.

“We can admit that there are some units that practise poor maternity care without the admission undermining the good practice of the majority, and we can continue to identify where improvement must be made without threatening the sensible implementation of beneficial policy.

“If we continue to bicker, those most harmed will be the women and babies we are all trying to help.”

The RCM announced earlier this month that it was abandoning its “normal birth” campaign and chief executive Professor Cathy Warwick accepted that the RCM’s advice could have been misleading.

The decision prompted angry exchanges on social media with the RCM’s new president Kathryn Gutteridge tweeting: “This is war now, we need to campaign for what we know is right.”

At Morecambe Bay, Dr Kirkup identified several midwives who were said to be pursuing normal birth “at all costs”.

Dr Kirkup said the debate following the RCM’s announcement had concerned him. “I’ve been dismayed, both by the unnecessarily personal tone of these exchanges, and by some of its content,” he said.

He added there were many failings at Morecambe Bay, which could be repeated elsewhere.

Kirkup: Divisive debate on midwifery could harm babies