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Critical baby monitors `misused' by midwives.

DOCTORS and midwives are misusing equipment that monitors babies during childbirth, according to a Birmingham academic.

Writing in the medical journal The Lancet, Professor Martin Whittle, of Birmingham Women's Hospital, questions the ability of medical staff to interpret a commonly-used piece of equipment called a cardiotocograph.

The machine, which has been used in British hospitals for more than 30 years, involves placing electrodes on the expectant mother's abdomen.

The electrodes pick up a heart rate from the foetus which emerges in graph form on a machine at the bedside.

A dramatic increase in heart rate can indicate a problem which, if not acted on, can result in brain damage.

But Prof Whittle says: "The ability of doctors and midwives to interpret [the results] leaves much to be desired.

"In some cases, staff failed to respond for more than 30 minutes."

Prof Whittle suggests introducing computer systems to assist medical staff in their analysis of the cardiotocograph. Further progress in foetal monitoring will arise from the development of simple methods of surveillance.

"Perhaps the development of computer-based systems will provide the greatest help for the doctor and midwife and be more effective in drawing their attention to difficulties."

Jason Gardosi, director of the West Midlands Perinatal Institute, admitted medical staff have problems interpreting the cardiotocograph.

"The main problem is that people do not know how to use it," he said.

"A lack of training has been highlighted in several reports and one of our aims is to improve training in foetal heart-rate monitoring.

"For the past 30 years, it has been the understanding that this is not a satisfactory method - it is not specific enough."

A spokeswoman for Scope, the national charity for children with cerebral palsy, a condition which can result from problems during childbirth, said: "At such a crucial time every woman deserves the best possible care.

"We want to see the medical profession doing everything in their power to ensure this is what every woman gets."
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Author:Palfreyman, Louise
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 6, 2000
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