Changing Childbirth. Report of the Expert Maternity Group.London: HMSO; 1993

Compassion in Practice. Nursing, Midwifery and Care Staff: Our vision and strategy.London: DHSC; 2012

Better Births: Improving Outcomes of Maternity Services in England.London: NHS England; 2016

The issue of consent

02 May 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 5


In her former career as a police officer, Claire Axcell was well-versed in the meaning of ‘consent’ and how it worked in practice. She considers how it applies to maternity care

One memory of my former career as a police officer sticks with me: stood in a soft play with a college who gently touched the member of staff and explained, ‘if I touch you without your consent, then I commit a crime. It's called battery.’ The definition of battery under English law contains the words, ‘undesired touching of another.’ As a PC, my training was based around the boundaries of consent; that everything we did and said was subject to the law and to the public. The police ‘police by consent’, which means that the public allows the police to step into a role where they enforce public peace, with the understanding that this consent is dependent upon public approval of their actions and their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

Browsing Twitter of late has made me wonder how the issue of consent is approached in maternity services. Often, midwives will hear birth stories where a woman felt as if she had lost control of her birth and wasn't listened to regarding the autonomy of her own body. Listening to a friend's birth story, she told me: ‘nobody gave me a choice, things were just done to me, I was a passive participant in my birth.’ Birth trauma is a very real issue that can affect women for years, or even decades. At a recent ‘Healing birth’ meeting, a woman reflected on her daughter's birth 28 years previously, and how it still affected her.

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