Health Secretary to investigate allegations that women are being refused epidurals during labour and birth

An investigation has revealed some women are being refused epidurals when requested [Photo: Getty]

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has promised an inquiry after an investigation suggested that women are being denied epidurals when they request them during birth.

A number of new mums claim they were refused the pain-relieving spinal injections by medics who told them they were either insufficiently or too far dilated.

Six NHS Trusts were identified in a Sunday Telegraph investigation where it was claimed women were refused pain relief when they asked for it.

Campaigners claim some women were so affected by their labour and birth experiences that they’ve suffered PTSD or had been put off having more children.

Official guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say women should be able to have an epidural at any point if they want one, including during the early stage of labour.  

Now, Matt Hancock has pledged to investigate the allegations.

He said in a statement: “I want all expectant mothers to be able to make an informed choice that’s right for them, to know this choice will be fully respected and to have the freedom to change their mind.

“Clinical guidance clearly states that you can ask for pain relief at any time – before and during labour – and as long as it is safe to do so this should never be refused. I’m concerned by evidence that such requests are being denied for anything other than a clinical reason.

“It’s vital this guidance is being followed right across the NHS, as part of making it the best place in the world to give birth. Women being denied pain relief is wrong, and we will be investigating.”

The promise to investigate comes after the British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS) also called for change when it comes to the provision of epidurals.

“Epidural analgesia remains the most effective form of pain relief for labour, and no woman should find herself denied this if she requests it – even if she is in the early stage of labour. Nice guidance is very clear on this,” the charity told i-news.

“We urge the Health Secretary to ensure that access to the pain relief women need in labour is a key part of plans to improve maternity care in this country. Women deserve nothing less.”

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The health secretary has promised to investigate the epidural allegations [Photo: Getty]

The culture surrounding giving birth and in particular the topic of pain relief has been causing debate for many years, with many women reporting feeling shame, fear or even guilt about their birth decisions.

Back in 2018 Harry Kane caused quite the furore after praising his fiancée for giving birth to their second daughter without any pain relief.

“So proud of @KateGoodlandx for having the most amazing water birth with no pain relief at all,” he wrote on Twitter.

But some people weren’t happy about the tweet, calling the footballer out for seemingly implying that women who opt for pain relief during labour should somehow feel less proud of themselves.

And being pain-shamed is clearly something that impacts the decisions made by mums-to-be when it comes to giving birth.

A previous survey by Channel Mum has revealed that a third of mums admitted to refusing pain relief during labour for fear of being judged.

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And it is possible some of this perceived judgement is filtering down via the experiences women have in terms of requesting, then being refused their pain relief of choice.

Of course, each individual case is different and no doubt the advice given by the medics during birth was based on their assessment of the situation at hand.

Nevertheless, this inquiry is vitally important, not least to try and ease the pressure some women are clearly feeling that taking pain-relief such as an epidural is the ‘easy way out.’

The fact is it doesn’t make you any less of a mum if you choose to have pain relief to aide the safe arrival of your baby.

There is no failure to be found in any woman who’s gone through the process of childbirth, no matter whether she chooses to have an epidural or not.

Equally there is no such thing as ‘giving in’ or taking the ‘easy option’ when it comes to giving birth.

And lets not forget that carefully laid birth plans don’t always go to, well, plan. You might think you don’t want any form of pain-relief, but when those contractions kick in, you might well be begging for drugs of the very strongest variety.

And that’s totally your prerogative, which is why we need to make sure everything is being done to ensure, that if it is safe to do so, having an epidural remains your birth right.