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Kirkup makes plea for ‘end to bickering’ over natural birth in wake of move by RCM

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The former chair of the Morecambe Bay inquiry has warned that the highly polarised debate around “natural” childbirth could harm safe care for mothers and babies, and called for both sides in the row to stop “bickering”.

In an opinion piece published in the Health Service Journal today, Dr Bill Kirkup described the Royal College of Midwives’ recent change in stance on the issue was “welcome”.

Earlier this month, the RCM dropped its “normal birth” campaign and removed advice for midwives from its website, acknowledging that it could have been “misleading”.

It confirmed that its “top 10 tips for a normal birth” had been deleted from its site and added that the campaign would be scrapped in favour of a more evidence-based “better births” initiative.

But Dr Kirkup, who led the investigation into poor maternity care at Furness General Hospital, said he had been “dismayed” by the response to the RCM’s decision.

“Those most harmed will be the women and babies we are all trying to help”

Bill Kirkup

He noted that the move had been “followed by an exchange of claims and counter claims in the press and in social media”, with various sets of campaigners lining up against each other.

He summarised the two sides as either claiming babies were “harmed by midwives recklessly pushing normal birth” or that midwives were “unfairly castigated by those with an axe to grind”.

“I’ve been dismayed, both by the unnecessarily personal tone of these exchanges, and by some of its content,” he said.

Dr Kirkup said: “On the one hand, there have been claims by mainstream newspaper reporters of a widespread culture of pushing normal birth ‘at all costs’ that is hazardous to women and babies.

Bill Kirkup

Copy of Bill Kirkup

Bill Kirkup

“On the other hand, there have been claims that Morecambe Bay was a single, small, isolated unit,” he said, adding: “The pejorative term ‘obstetric violence’ has re-emerged to be applied to those who seek to intervene to prevent harm.

“However, misguided you may think that intervention can sometimes be, it is neither just nor helpful to demonise obstetricians in this way, any more than it is just or helpful to demonise midwives as being in blind pursuit of normality,” he said in the Health Service Journal.

Dr Kirkup added: “It is vital that we stop polarising this argument, and drop the scaremongering claims on both sides.

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

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