HOSPITAL bosses failed to tell staff about a maternity unit gas leak for more than a year after it was discovered.
Midwives at Basildon Hospital in Essex said they had fears for their fertility after being told last week that tests in June 2021 found levels of nitrous oxide in the air that exceeded safe working limits.
The drug, also known as laughing gas, is used in gas-and-air painkillers for mums in labour.
Studies have found long-term exposure to large quantities can damage fertility.
Any pregnant staff on the unit will now be moved to work in other areas of the hospital as a precaution.
Bosses admitted in a video call that they could not rule out health impacts from the leak after upset staff revealed they had suffered issues getting pregnant.
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One said: “It’s blown my mind that this has been out there and not one person has considered our wellbeing.
“We’ve been completely disregarded. It feels like we’ve been lied to.”
The chief medical officer for the hospital, Dr David Walker, told staff tests had found levels of nitrous oxide in the delivery suite were up to 20 times higher than the safe working level.
He said it was not known whether the amounts would be enough to affect people’s health.
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Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, admitted no further testing had been carried out since last summer to see if the levels were back to normal.
It said windows and doors had been opened and fans used on the unit to improve ventilation.
Units to remove the gas, known as scavenger units, were ordered months ago but have not yet been installed.
In a memo sent to staff, CEO Hannah Coffey said: “This delay, and the fact that staff were not made aware of the issue, has only just come to light.
“This is unacceptable and we have apologised unreservedly to the staff in the unit.”
A spokesperson for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are aware that there was an issue with levels of nitrous oxide – the gas used by women to help with pain relief during labour – in the air at our maternity unit at Basildon Hospital.
“It is perfectly safe for service users and their families to continue to use the maternity unit as normal.
“We have taken immediate action to resolve the situation and an investigation is underway.
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“Support and advice is being offered to our staff while investigations continue.”
It comes as an inquiry into maternity failings at the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust will publish its findings on Wednesday.