Mum reveals agonising labour after hospital suspended gas and air pain relief

A mother who was forced to endure an "excruciating" seven-hour long labour with minimum pain relief and no explanation from hospital staff says the ordeal was so painful it "might have put her off having a baby again". 

Emma Djan told Sky News that the days before her baby's birth were extremely stressful and probably resulted in her missing her due date.

"I didn't know what was happening, (I was) just really scared," she said.

"I wasn't told about any alternative pain relief until I got to the hospital, so (I was) just really nervous and scared about it.

"Looking back, it was really bad. I've never experienced that type of pain before.

"Without the pain relief it was really excruciating. And I think if he was my first baby, that would really put me off having another one. I really do."

Emma gave birth to baby Kingston on 18 December after being induced at Ipswich Hospital.

But she only found out on social media a fortnight before her due date that the hospital had suspended the use of gas and air as pain relief for expectant mothers.

"Someone should have phoned us up and said, 'look this has happened at the hospital', not by reading it on Facebook," Emma said.

She says she asked medical staff at the hospital for an explanation but was not given one.

"The staff at the hospital, like midwives and staff like that, they should have let us know and given us the information. That's what upset me as well, the lack of communication."

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Emma's agony was made worse knowing there were full canisters of gas and air in the labour ward near her.

She says at one point her husband asked staff if they could just "give her a puff".

After many hours she was given a 5ml dose of morphine.

Gas and air, also known as Entonox, is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen.

It is one of the most commonly used pain relief medications for labour and other procedures.

But there have been warnings raised over prolonged exposure to the gas for the medical staff who work in unventilated delivery rooms and labour wards.

Dr Giles Thorpe, chief nurse at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich Hospital, told Sky News: "We appreciate that this was a very frustrating and anxious time for people who would have liked to have had the option of using gas and air while giving birth at Ipswich Maternity Unit.

"Our decision to remove nitrous oxide followed safety concerns raised in other maternity units about the levels of gas left in the air after it had been used.

"The decision was not taken lightly but we needed to be sure that the delivery areas were safe for our maternity staff to work in.

"We worked as quickly as we could to install new ventilation units in all delivery suites and birthing rooms at the hospital and are very grateful for the support and patience of everyone involved while that work was carried out.

"Gas and air was reinstated early last month."

'We need proper investment in maternity services'

The issue is now affecting maternity services at other Trusts and more hospitals across the country will be affected.

It is a problem made worse by the deteriorating condition of the NHS estate with many buildings no longer fit or appropriate for a modern health service.

Dr Suzanne Taylor from the Royal College of Midwives told Sky News: "Too many of the buildings that house maternity services are simply not fit for purpose.

"This issue has arisen because of poor ventilation in delivery suites and labour wards, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"We know of crumbling walls, ceilings being held up by props and even sewage flowing onto wards.

"These aren't cosmetic issues. We need proper investment in maternity services."

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The latest hospitals to suspend gas and air for its maternity services are Peterborough City and Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire.

Jo Bennis, Chief Nurse at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospitals said: "We appreciate that this is a very anxious time for those women who were expecting to be able to use gas and air while giving birth at our maternity units.

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"This was not a decision that we made lightly and was based on expert advice following thorough testing of the atmosphere in our maternity units.

An NHS England spokesperson said: "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."