Hospitals suspend gas and air treatment for pregnant women over midwife safety fears

27 February 2023, 11:08

Nitrous oxide residuals have been recorded as 50 times over safety levels in some NHS units
Nitrous oxide residuals have been recorded as 50 times over safety levels in some NHS units. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Hospitals across the UK have been suspending the use of gas and air pain relief treatment for pregnant women over fears midwives are being exposed to harmful levels.

Nitrous oxide levels have been recorded at 50 times over the safety limit in some NHS units, though some have described the suspensions as "madness".

One hospital that has limited the use of air and gas treatment is the Princess Alexandra hospital in Essex, where pregnant mum Amy Fantis is due to give birth.

The hospital only has three machines that can break up the gas into unharmful components, meaning the hospital will only use it on a "case-by-case basis".

Ms Fantis described the lack of air and gas treatment as a "stress that you don't need" after she gave birth while under the pain relief four years ago.

Some NHS units recorded unsafe levels of nitrus oxide
Some NHS units recorded unsafe levels of nitrous oxide. Picture: Getty

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She told The Sunday Times: "It’s not available to everyone and I might not get it. My birth might only be 40 minutes. It is a stress that you don’t need.

"I understand they have to keep midwives safe but to just take it away seems madness. It is the poor mums who are paying the price."

Meanwhile, head of midwifery at the hospital Joanna Keable said mothers should not be worried, saying safety concerns only arise after prolonged exposure.

"Please be reassured that there is no risk to mothers, birthing people, their partners and babies," she said.

"The use of Entonox was temporarily suspended to protect our midwifery and medical teams from prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide in the atmosphere arising from the patient use of gas and air.

"Thank you to all of the women and families who use our services and to our maternity and medical team for your understanding and support."

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn
Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Google Maps

There have also been high levels of nitrus oxide detected is at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn and Watford General Hospital.

The latter's chief nurse Tracey Carter said: "Our maternity safety champions and estates team have carefully monitored nitrous oxide levels since we became aware of the issue in October 2021. 

"The infrastructure of our estate means we cannot put a mechanical ventilation system in place but we have installed machines which effectively remove waste anaesthetic gas from delivery rooms to ensure safety for patients and staff."

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