Basildon maternity unit stops gas and air over safety fears

An NHS maternity department has stopped using gas and air for women in labour “temporarily” again over safety concerns.

Basildon University Hospital staff have been told by managers that they did not have a “reliable understanding” of air quality at the birth unit.

A briefing seen by the BBC described how “urgent action” was being taken.

A spokesman for the Mid and South Essex Hospital Trust said it hoped to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

The use of gas and air – also known as Entonox – was suspended last year after nitrous oxide levels were found to consistently exceed workplace safety limits, but was reinstated in late December.

At least three other hospitals across England have suspended the use of the mild anaesthetic in recent weeks, but this is thought to be the first time an indefinite ban has been made.

On Monday, it was announced the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow had suspended the use of gas and air in its maternity unit to “protect our midwifery and medical team”.

Ipswich Hospital and the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford in Kent have taken similar action.

Air quality checks have been taking place at Basildon, but the staff briefing stated the results had been contradictory.

Nitrous oxide levels of almost 3,000 parts per million (ppm) were discovered during routine testing in June 2021.

The workplace exposure limit is 100ppm.

The trust apologised after staff were not informed the legal exposure limits were being breached until sixteen months later in October 2022, when more regular testing was put in place.


The trust has installed so-called “scavenger” units in an attempt to purify the air.

Anaesthetists and clinicians at the trust have created a pain relief flow chart which was being circulated to staff.

The briefing said two testing companies had been engaged and staff had been wearing testing tubes to monitor levels of nitrous oxide.

But there had been discrepancies in the results from both companies, and they had been asked to investigate further, the letter stated,

It added that it was “extremely frustrating and means we do not have a clear picture of the air quality in the unit”.

‘Options available’

The Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said: “Following further tests, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend the use of gas and air in the maternity suite at Basildon Hospital to protect our staff who are working on the labour ward for extended periods of time.

“We hope to have a resolution to this issue as soon as possible.

“More testing and monitoring of air quality levels is required before we can reinstate gas and air, and until then, it is absolutely necessary to ensure we can maintain safe levels going forward.

“We’re very sorry that women using the service won’t have access to Entonox during that time, but would like to reassure them that every other method of pain relief will be available.

“While there has been no risk of harm at all to mothers and babies who have used the unit, prolonged exposure to the gas can lead to issues with vitamin B12 deficiency.

“Our midwives are contacting the families we expect to have their babies at Basildon soon, to talk to them about the options available to them.”


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