Pregnant women are being forced to give birth without gas and air at a scandal-hit hospital, it has emerged.
Entonox, as it is formally known, is working normally at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent, but it is not being given to patients after tests revealed staff on the ward were being subjected to levels of nitrous oxide that exceeded the threshold for long-term safe exposure.
Gas and air can therefore not be given to any patient in need of pain relief until a new ventilation system is installed, which may take up to two weeks.
Entonox, which is equal parts oxygen and nitrous oxide, is also known as laughing gas, and is a common pain reliever in labour.
It poses no risk to mothers or children but prolonged exposure can have negative effects on health.
The hospital, which is part of the East Kent NHS Trust, was found by a landmark report to have failed mothers and children, as was the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate.
Dozens of mothers and babies died as a result of repeated maternity findings, the report found.
The nitrous oxide exposure tests and ventilation issue are not believed to be related to the findings of the report.
New ventilator machine to be installed
The William Harvey Hospital has purchased a ventilatory machine called a scavenging system that removes anaesthetic gases from the air as well as new window fans.
Such systems are commonplace in hospital wards and theatres and the new additions are expected to be installed within one to two weeks.
The Telegraph understands there are about 60 women due to give birth at the hospital in this timeframe and gas and air will be unavailable for these births.
Women who had planned to give birth at the hospital are being contacted about the situation and are expected to be told to go to the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital, which is an hour’s drive away in Margate, if they want gas and air.
Women who opt to give birth in the Ashford hospital will still have every other form of anaesthetic available to them, such as an epidural.
“We regret and are sorry to tell you that women in labour at our maternity department at William Harvey Hospital will not be able to access Entonox [gas and air] at the moment,” the East Kent Hospitals University Trust said in a statement on its website.
“Due to a ventilation issue, the current levels of gas in the air could affect the health of staff who work for long periods in the labour rooms. Mums and babies are not at risk of harm.
Excessive exposure to nitrous oxide can lead to B12 deficiency, which is easily treatable if detected.
“There are also reports that long-term exposure may cause, in rare cases, nerve damage and also in rare cases may cause miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy,” the trust added.
The hospital is now offering blood tests to affected staff and is relocating any pregnant staff members as a precautionary measure.