Encouraging home births could save the NHS millions of pounds a year, an Oxford University study has shown.
The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, studied 60,000 women over two years, all of whom were deemed to have “low risk” pregnancies. Participants in the study included both women who had given birth before and those who had not, and researchers showed that on average it was £300 cheaper for a woman to give birth at her own home than in a hospital.
The research took into account NHS costs linked to the actual birth, including the cost of midwife care whilst labour is occurring and after birth, medical care, pain relief and procedures required in hospital should anything go wrong. It did not, however, take into account the cost of caring for a baby suffering from birth injuries, a major factor in determining childbirth costs as babies born at home were found to be three times more likely to suffer from such injuries.
Currently only 2.5% of women give birth at home, but Liz Schroder, a co-author of the study, hopes that the findings may encourage them “to request an ‘out of hospital’ birth” and that “the potential for cost savings could make offering women more choice an attractive option for the NHS”.
Others believe that this research will be a wake-up the government, at a time when NHS cuts are being fiercely debated. Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives said, “This underlines the need to make a fundamental change in the way we deliver maternity services in this country.” She added that the government is asking for “more for less” and that the research is a “shining example” of how it can be delivered.
However, the findings have failed to convince everybody. Camilla Tomney, writing in The Express, claimed that the study is a classic example of women being made to feel inadequate when they wish to “defy Mother Nature”, even if they “are doing what they believe is best for their babies”.
Students at Oxford have also questioned the findings. One first year medic commented, “Home births are always dangerous.” Another stated that the NHS is not about simply “saving money, but saving lives.”