A popular pain relief is being suspended for women in childbirth

gas and air pregnant woman
Gas and air suspended for women in labourGetty Images

Some hospitals are suspending the use of gas and air - a common form of pain relief for women in labour; also known as laughing gas - amid concerns for midwives' safety.

A number of NHS trusts have made the decision to temporarily ban using laughing gas (which contains nitrous oxide) due to fears of possible long-term exposure and harm for medical staff.

The Health and Safety Executive recorded 11 nitrous oxide incidents in NHS trusts during the period of August 2018 and December 2022, per analysis carried out by the BBC. Based on the safe exposure limit of 100ppm, some were shown to be 50 times over in various NHS units.

As a result, some hospitals have suspended the use of gas and air in maternity wards after levels of nitrous oxide were found. Basildon University Hospital halted its use after tests showed levels exceeding the safe exposure limit in the workplace. Meanwhile, Ipswich Hospital also temporarily stopped using the pain relief last year but is now using it again after installing new ventilation units, according to the BBC.

Another hospital set to limit Entonox gas in its maternity ward is Princess Alexandra; a decision which, according to The Times, is causing distress among mothers-to-be and patients. Though some portable machines that break up the gas are being employed, the hospital doesn't have sufficient machines for every birthing room and it's leaving pregnant women fearful of the incremental pain if forced to go without gas and air during childbirth.

Amy Fantis, a mother-to-be who is due to have her baby at the hospital, expressed deep concern over this decision. 'It’s not available to everyone and I might not get it. My birth might only be 40 minutes. It is a stress that you don’t need,’ she told The Sunday Times. ‘I understand they have to keep midwives safe but to just take it away seems madness. It is the poor mums who are paying the price.’

According to a spokesperson, the NHS is now working with the trusts that have been affected by gas and air supplies.

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