Response to Guardian Article on access to Epidurals

An article titled "Women in labour being refused epidurals, official inquiry finds" appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday 3rd March.

AIMS fully supports individuals having access to their choice of pain relief in labour. Informed decision making, and access to effective support, is at the heart of birth being a positive experience. We agree there is a need to better understand the many reasons why epidurals are not given to women who want them, but also feel that it is crucial to put this discussion into a broader context, including access to other forms of pain relief and support.

Epidurals are one form of pain relief, but we know that women are often denied the use of other effective methods, including access to birth pools, gas and air (entonox) and access to birth surroundings which increase the body's natural endorphins (pain relief) such as birth centres and home births.

We need to be aware that the denial of epidurals is just one part of how women's rights are being dismissed and disregarded. On the AIMS Helpline we often hear about women:

  • being denied access to midwifery support until they're classed as in labour (at least 4cm dilated) even if they are in real need of pain relief or support
  • being unable to access effective pain relief in the early stages of an induced labour
  • having to wait long periods of time because of a lack of anesthetists available on maternity wards
  • not being listened to, and the pain that they are experiencing being dismissed
  • being denied access to birth centres or told that they will not be supported with a homebirth
  • having their informed decisions ignored.

AIMS calls on all maternity service providers to fully implement NICE guidance in respect of individual decisions for labour. This is key to the provision of personalised and safe care.


AIMS supports all maternity service users to navigate the system as it exists, and campaigns for a system which truly meets the needs of all. AIMS does not give medical advice, but instead we focus on helping women to find the information that they need to make informed decisions about what is right for them, and support them to have their decisions respected by their health care providers. The AIMS Helpline volunteers will be happy to provide further information and support. Please email helpline@aims.org.uk or ring 0300 365 0663.

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