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Birth Induction

Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 25 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many hospital maternity units are now inducing labour in confinements as an administrative convenience; what guidance is given to mothers in regard to the effects of this procedure on themselves or on their babies; and what provision is made in such units for mothers to decline induction if there is no medical need for it.

Induced births as a percentage of all hospital deliveries in England and Wales have risen from 13·7 per cent. in 1963 to 31·5 per cent. in 1972. The reasons for this increase are being investigated. I would expect the use of this procedure to be fully discussed and agreed with the woman herself, who would have the same right to refuse induction as she has to refuse any other form of treatment offered to her.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Will he consider issuing guidelines to hospitals on the advice and help they should give to mothers who are experiencing the procedure, in view of the great disquiet which is felt among women about this whole process? Will he also consider—I understand that he has a survey in hand—advising hospitals to go slow on the special induction procedure while the survey is being undertaken and until its results are known?

We are hoping to have the initial results from the survey in the middle of the summer. When I receive those results I shall give thought to the question of issuing guidelines and taking the advice of the professional and other advisory committees that are available to us.

As this is a widespread practice even when the condition of mother and baby does not seem to require it, should we not study the side effects even more carefully? Is it not possible that there may be some danger where the skills and facilities available are not necessarily of the very best?

The most important thing to do is to determine the facts. I share the concern of many hon. Members about a superficial trend, but there are many facts and many reasons behind this matter and we need to establish these before we make any definite policy changes.

Does the Minister realise that many people are worried by the rise in the figures he has given us—namely, from 13 per cent. in 1963 to 31·5 per cent. now? Is it not the case that in some hospitals the figure is high as 50 per cent? Does the Minister recognise that most women believe that the delivering of babies is not a nine-till-five, Monday-to-Friday business? Does he appreciate that pregnant women are worried that their well-being and the well-being of their children is being placed second to social convenience? Are there any statistics to disprove the view that is still held by many doctors that to interfere with the natural process of childbirth can be justified only where medical reasons make induction necessary?

That only reinforces the need for the facts. Women rightly regard childbirth as a natural process. They regard it as a process not without discomfort but as essentially a normal process. Before we intervene we have to judge carefully the grounds for intervention. There is an old physician's prayer which says "From inability to leave well alone, good Lord deliver us".

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of his reply, does my hon. Friend accept that we must have an urgent inquiry into a situation in which women are being asked to have their babies only during office hours? We do, not know what detrimental effect this will have on the women or on the babies. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that serious concern is felt by many people on this issue? Will he give an assurance that the House will have an opportunity to debate the matter?

I do not know why my hon. Friend is dissatisfied. I have told her that I share the concern that is felt. In fact, I shared that concern even before the programme which aroused a great deal of public controversy appeared on our television screens. We have instigated inquiries and surveys to establish the facts. As my hon. Friend has said, we do not fully know all the facts. We want to examine the situation so that we do not reach conclusions on unsubstantiated foundations. There is justifiable concern about the possibility of induction taking place for administrative convenience. The facts are not yet fully established and it will take time to do this. I share my hon. Friend's concern.