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J R Soc Med. 2001 May;94(5):226-31.

Reducing risk by improving standards of intrapartum fetal care.

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North Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust, Ward 59, Maternity Unit, Newcastle Road, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 6QG.


Confidential Enquiries into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy (CESDI) have pointed to a high frequency of suboptimal intrapartum fetal care of a kind that, in the event of an adverse outcome, is hard to defend in court. In an effort to minimize liability, various strategies were applied in a district hospital labour ward--guidelines, cyclical audit, monthly feedback meetings and training sessions in cardiotocography (CTG). The effects of these interventions on quality of care was assessed by use of the CESDI system in all babies born with an Apgar score of 4 or less at 1 min and/or 7 or less at 5 min. 540 babies (4.3%) had low Apgar scores, and neither the percentage nor gestational age differed significantly between audit periods. In the baseline audit, care was judged suboptimal (grade II/III) in 14 (74%) of 19 cases, and in the next four periods it was 23%, 27%, 27% and 32%. In the latest audit period, after further educational interventions, it was 9%. Many of the failures to recognize or act on abnormal events were related to CTG interpretation. After the interventions there was a significant increase in cord blood pH measurement. There were no differences between audit periods in the proportion of babies with cord pH < 7.2. These results indicate that substantial improvements in quality of intrapartum care can be achieved by a programme of clinical risk management.

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