As the United States debates the merits of government-sponsored health care, stories emerge from the UK of dramatic bed shortages in maternity wards and the consequences those shortages have on patients in labor.
While the American public discuss the merits of government-sponsored health care, dramatic stories emerge from the United Kingdom - where health care is entirely government-controlled - of bed shortages in maternity wards that are forcing women to deliver babies in elevators and in other environments that lack proper hygiene.
Thousands of women are being forced to deliver their babies outside of maternity wards. The reasons behind this include a lack of midwives and of beds.
"The lives of mothers and babies are being put at risk as births in locations ranging from lifts to toilets - even a caravan - went up 15 per cent last year to almost 4,000," the Daily Mail reported on Wednesday. "Health chiefs admit a lack of maternity beds is partly to blame for the crisis, with hundreds of women in labour being turned away from hospitals because they are full."
Over the past two years, 36 births occurred in "unspecified areas," including hallways and corridors. 399 births occurred in other parts of maternity wards, away from labor beds.
"Additionally, overstretched maternity units shut their doors to any more women in labour on 553 occasions last year," Daily Mail reported. "Babies were born in offices, lifts, toilets and a caravan, according to the Freedom of Information data for 2007 and 2008 from 117 out of 147 trusts which provide maternity services."
The UK, France, Canada, and other nations are commonly cited in the U.S. health care political debate as countries that have solid track records with government-run health care. Canada recently disclosed that its health care system was "unsustainable," and the UK reports on maternity bed shortages offer another perspective.
"While some will be unavoidable emergencies, it is extremely distressing for them and their families to be denied a labour bed because their maternity unit is full. It shows the incredible waste that has taken place that mothers are getting this sort of sub-standard treatment despite Gordon Brown's tripling of spending on the NHS," Tory health spokesperson Andrew Lansley told the Daily Mail. "Labour have let down mothers by cutting the number of maternity beds and by shutting down maternity units."