The Southern Trust says it has already introduced measures to reduce the number of caesarean births, after a report revealed it has the highest rate of all five trusts in the province.
The trust was responding to the Safer Births report, produced by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO), which showed that caesarean sections rose across all trusts in 2012-2013, with 29.8 per cent of babies born by this method.
A total of 4,194 babies were born in Craigavon Hospital in 2012-2013, 33 per cent of these by caesarean; in Daisy Hill, 35.8 per cent of the 1,904 births were by caesarean.
The report highlights the wide variation between trusts, with rates of 22.9 per cent in the Mater and 25.8 per cent in Altnagelvin.
Debbie Burns, Southern Trust interim director of acute services, said, “In Northern Ireland there has been a steady increase in caesarean section (CS) rates over the last decade. The Southern Trust has followed that trend, and as that trend is now beginning to reverse elsewhere, it is expected that the CS rate will begin to reduce in the Southern Trust area.
“Our obstetricians and midwives are pro-actively engaged in the promotion of natural deliveries and in reducing the CS rate through the use of the NHS Self Improvement Toolkit.
“We have also implemented a trust-wide plan to increase access to midwifery-led care for women with low risk pregnancies and to promote natural deliveries. A new midwifery-led unit is due to open soon in Daisy Hill Hospital.”
The report acknowledges that caesarean sections can be a lifesaving procedure for an infant in distress or where there are other labour complications. However, it points out that performing caesarean sections in cases where they are not medically necessary can put mothers and babies at avoidable risk of infection, extend hospital stays and recoveries, and increase healthcare costs.
It also points out that women who previously delivered by caesarean section form the largest grouping within the overall caesarean section rate, and that preventing avoidable caesarean sections in first‐time mothers would be key in reducing the need for repeat caesareans.