25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 17


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] 8,11, - Will you permit me to intervene in the interesting correspondence on this important subject to emphasize the tragedy which lies behind the inadequacy- of the maternity services of this country ?

I must leave academic discussions as to the precise and respective functions of the midwife, medical attendant and obstetrician to those who possess the professional knowledge. But I am anxious lest amid a multitude of words we lose our sense of proportion.

The simplest lay mind can appreciate the incontrovertible and ugly truth stated recently by a committee of medical experts, sitting at the request of the Government, that nearly four thousand mothers die in childbirth every year, and that not less than one half of these deaths are preventable. lank of facilities, lack of training, and the resultant lack of skill are all frankly admitted as the chief causes of this national tragedy. The same causes, it must be presumed, compel thousands of women to live the remainder of their lives robbed of their full health and vigour, alternating between home and hospital, and enduring constant discomfort.

The assurance which the lay mind is seeking is that a real effort is being made to prevent this terrible wastage of human life and suffering. For nearly two years the National Birthday Trust Fund has been working for the development and extension of maternity services. By grants to the maternity hospitals with which it co-operates it helps to ensure that the mothers entering these hospitals receive the highest degree of skill and attention required by each particular case.

Another most important phase of the work which the Fund has been able to accomplish is the provision of anaes- thetics for mothers. A second anaesthetist is now employed at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, so that every mother can have an anaesthetic ; other hospitals are making similar appoint- ments. This work must continue until every mother who desires it is accorded this relief.

Mr. Hawes states in the Spectator of September 27th that the safest motherhood is not necessarily the easiest. Perhaps, in spite of professional experience, his view on the subject might be changed if he could see some of the many pathetic letters I have received from women (and from their husbands) imploring me to assist them to obtain an anaesthetic without which they cannot face the ordeal of motherhood again. Does Mr. Hawes discount entirely the results of the nervous shock which leaves an ineradicable mark in so many cases