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Obstetrics still the ‘poor relation’ to other health disciplines


It is hard to quantify the improvements in women’s lives that have occurred since the 1950s, and we might assume that young women today inhabit a world entirely different from that of their grandmothers.

However, as The Guardian reports today, one area of female experience has remains relatively unchanged, that of childbirth.

While technologies in other medical disciplines such as cardiology have made enormous leaps, developments in obstetrics have lagged so far behind that today researchers claim there have been no significant advances in the past sixty years.

A common problem, affecting one in ten British women, is a prolonged and painful labour that ends in a caesaerean.

As Sue Wray, professor of physiology at the University of Liverpool, says:’When labour starts running into difficulties, there is still very little we can do about it.’

Hope comes in the form of a new research centre, currently being built at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital by the University of Liverpool. Researchers intend to study the workings of the womb and the reasons why childbirth can go wrong in order to develop more effective treatments and technologies.

However, a further £1.5 million is still needed to provide vital facilities and cover staffing costs for the centre.

As Professor Andy Sherman, consultant obstetrician for the baby charity Tommy’s, explains: “Obstetrics has always been a bit of a poor relation, and part of the reason is that pregnancy problems are something of a taboo subject.

“Research has until now been chronically underfunded, and has relied on charities and people putting their hands in their pockets. But the NHS has the potential to do fantastic research that would benefit many thousands of women and their families.”

Let us hope that social taboos – such as the belief that pain in birth is ‘natural’ and inevitable – do not allow the potential promised by the new centre to fall victim to NHS cuts, as managers seek to reduce costs.

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