Hospitals ‘suspending gas and air’ for mothers-to-be over midwife safety fears

The Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow, Essex. (Google Street View)
The Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow, Essex. (Google Street View)

Hospitals are suspending the use of pain-relieving gas and air for mothers-to-be over fears for midwives safety.

A string of NHS Trusts have temporarily halted the use of laughing gas following concerns that medical staff are being exposed to harmful levels while treating patients.

Nitrous oxide residuals have been measured as 50 times over safe levels in some NHS units, according to The Sunday Times.

Pregnant Amy Fantis is due to have her baby at the Princess Alexandra hospital in Essex which suspended use of the Entonox gas last month.

While the hospital has ordered machines which can break up the gas into unharmful components, it has limited the use of gas and air.

The hospital has said it ‘may not be able to offer gas and air to everyone who would like to use it’ and will prioritise use on a ‘case-by-case basis’.

Ms Fantis told the Sunday Times this was a ‘stress that you don’t need’, having been dependent on the pain relief while giving birth four years ago.

She added: “It’s not available to everyone and I might not get it. My birth might only be 40 minutes. It is a stress that you don’t need. I understand they have to keep midwives safe but to just take it away seems madness. It is the poor mums who are paying the price.”

Joanna Keable, head of midwifery at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust said that mothers-to-be should be “reassured that there is no risk” with safety concerns only arising with prolonged exposure.

She added: “Please be reassured that there is no risk to mothers, birthing people, their partners and babies. The use of Entonox was temporarily suspended to protect our midwifery and medical teams from prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide in the atmosphere arising from the patient use of gas and air.

“Thank you to all of the women and families who use our services and to our maternity and medical team for your understanding and support.”

High levels of nitrous oxide have also previously been detected at a number of other trusts including Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King’s Lynn, and Watford General Hospital, it was said.

Before Watford General Hospital had installed air purifiers, it reportedly experienced levels 50 times above nitrous oxide safety caps last year.

Essex’s Basildon University Hospital is among those that have temporarily suspended use of the gas.

While an investigation took place last year and its use was previously reintroduced, suspensions came into force again last month.

The Health and Safety Executive recorded a total of 11 nitrous oxide incidents in NHS trusts between August 2018 and December 2022, according to analysis by the BBC.

Ipswich Hospital also temporarily suspended the pain relief last year but are now using it again following the installation of new ventilation units.

The executive director of the Royal College of Midwives told The Times that “poor ventilation in delivery suites” was “just the tip of the iceberg” in maternity units unfit for purpose.

An NHS England spokesman told MailOnline: “NHS England has been working with the Trusts where gas and air supplies have been affected due to differing and localised issues – this is not a widespread issue and patients should continue to access services as normal.”