HUNDREDS of new mothers in Scotland are being readmitted to hospital after developing emergency complications within 42 days of giving birth, according to the first ever audit of maternity services across Britain.

The report raises concerns that in some cases women and babies are being sent home too soon after birth in order to free up beds, leading to complications such as anaemia, infection and blood clots.

Read more: Expectant mothers turned away from 'full' flagship maternity unit 

Loading article content

In Scotland, between April 2015 and end of March 2016, just over 1,400 new mothers - 2.9 per cent - were re-admitted as inpatients six weeks after giving birth. The rate was 2.5 per cent among women who had had vaginal births, but rose to 3.8 per cent among those who had delivered by caesarean.

Unplanned maternal readmissions were also slightly higher in Scotland than England, where 2.4 per cent of women were re-admitted to hospital 42 days after childbirth.

The National Maternity and Perinatal Audit (NMPA) has pulled together data for every maternity unit in Scotland, England and Wales for the first time to compare performance and trends across Britain.

The report noted that the average length of hospital stay for mothers and babies in the UK is one of the lowest in the world.

Read more: Surge in over-45s giving birth as Scotland overtakes England and Wales  

It added: "There is some concern that pressure on beds and rapid discharges are associated with increased readmission rates. Emergency readmission to hospital within six weeks of birth represents a deviation from the normal course of postnatal care, separating new families and having potential emotional and social consequences, in addition to physical morbidity.

"The most common causes of maternal readmission are infection, wound breakdown, pain, anaemia and venous thromboembolism; rarely, readmission is due to surgical complication."

Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Catherine Calderwood said the readmissions were not necessarily due complications linked to childbirth, as there was nothing in the data to explain why the women had returned to hospital.

The report also revealed that thousands of mothers in Scotland are undergoing planned early deliveries by caesarean or induced labour - sometimes without a clear clinical reason.

Read more: Midwives battle 27 per cent cut in maternity beds in Glasgow

In 2015/16, there were 5,484 infants born in Scotland as the result of medical intervention at 37-38 weeks, which is considered "early term".

Infants born at this point are no longer considered premature but neither full-term as the baby's lungs, brain and fat stores are still developing. Research also indicates that babies induced or delivered by C-section before 39 weeks are more likely to have cerebral palsy, severe jaundice, respiratory difficulties, problems breathing and feeding, and are at a higher risk of death than babies born before 39 weeks.

The data refers only to single babies, not pregnancies involving twins or triplets.

Although there can be good medical reasons to carry out a planned early delivery, the report found that in 47 per cent of cases in Scotland - 2,577 births - there was "no recognised clinical indication" recorded to explain why birth was brought forward. This compared to an average of 29 per cent for Britain as a whole.

The Scottish Government said it believes the disparity is down to poorer data gathering north of the Border in relation to the reasons for planned early deliveries, and that this has been flagged with the health statistics body ISD Scotland.

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood added: “We are clear that all women must have maternity care that is tailored to meet their needs.

"That’s why have already completed our national review of maternity and neonatal services this year, and are now implementing its recommendations – which are in line with the findings of this valuable audit.

“The audit shows some areas where Scotland has made progress – notably that our work to address low birth weights sees fewer babies in Scotland born at the lowest birth weight here than anywhere else in the rest of the UK.

“However, the data does not give a complete picture, for example, there are no findings in the report that point to hospital readmissions being the consequence of giving birth or a maternity related issue.”