Leading doctors have called for better care for pregnant women and new mothers with heart disease in Scottish hospitals, after a major UK report flagged rising numbers of mothers dying from cardiac problems.
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) will announce new standards today for caring for women with heart disease, including pre-pregnancy counselling, out-of-hours access to care and closer working between heart specialists and obstetricians.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of maternal death, according to an expert report published this week by a team of academics, clinicians and charity representatives called MBRRACE-UK.
The rise in older and heavier mothers is believed to be to blame for the increase in deaths, which affect two women per 100,000.
Professor Hazel Scott, RCPSG medical vice president, said: “Every maternal death is a devastating blow to families, healthcare teams and the community.
“Heart disease is a particular area where physicians and obstetricians need to work better together to ensure the right care is given at the right time.
“The College calls on the Scottish Health Service to enable every woman of child bearing age in Scotland to have access to the protection afforded by the optimal use of the clinical team.”
Maternal deaths have halved over the past decade but the number of women dying from causes that are not directly associated with pregnancy has failed to keep pace with the decline.
Some women showed symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain and severe breathlessness but did not ask for help from medics as they did not realise they could be at risk of heart problems, the report found.
A significant proportion of women who died also had a pre-existing condition before embarking on pregnancy, yet were not flagged as ‘high risk’ and so did not receive the specialist care they needed.
Professor Marian Knight, maternal programme lead for MBRRACE UK said: “Whilst dying from heart disease in pregnancy or after childbirth is uncommon, women need to be aware that they may be at risk.
“Women with heart problems in pregnancy need the right care in the right place at the right time and by the right specialist team of doctors and midwives.
“These new standards will help ensure that women in Scotland get that best level of care.”
The college has urged all Scottish health boards to focus on spotting when women have a risk of heart disease and to offer better support and specialist care.
Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, who is a trained obstetrician, said the guidelines could make a real difference to women.
She said: “The MBRRACE report published this week and the 2014 report have highlighted the risks of heart problems for pregnant women, and this is an area where, with awareness raising, prompt identification and multidisciplinary management of care can make a real difference to outcomes for pregnant women with cardiac disease.
“These standards are the result of joint working between cardiologists and obstetricians across Scotland, and I welcome the standards and will work with colleagues in Health Boards to ensure that they are implemented across Scotland.”