MIDWIVES who were exposed to high levels of nitrous oxide are poised to launch a legal challenge within weeks.

Staff at Basildon Hospital’s maternity unit were exposed to almost 30 times the legal workplace exposure limit - 100 parts per million - for nitrous oxide, documents revealed earlier this year.

Hospital bosses had been aware of high levels of Entonox – nitrous oxide used as pain relief during labour – in the ward since the summer of 2021.

But they only told staff in October last year when units to help clean the air were finally delivered to the hospital.

A group of midwives, represented by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), are set to take legal action against Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, which runs the hospital.

“I feel massively let down by the trust”, one midwife who wished to remain anonymous said.

“Many midwives have spoken to lawyers and we are in the process of collating all the claims before we proceed.”

The trust has yet to receive a formal complaint or legal challenge; staff say claims are being collated and a formal complaint will be made imminently.

“Support and advice is being offered to our staff while investigations continue,” a trust spokesman told the Echo.

There are no harmful side effects of using gas and air for a mother or baby, however safety concerns have been raised about the overexposure for hospital staff.

‘Scavenger units’ have since been deployed at Basildon Hospital with the use of gas and air on the maternity ward briefly suspended in December and January.

Several hospitals across the country have had to take similar measures in recent months including Peterborough Hospital, the Princess Alexandra in Harlow and Ipswich Hospital.

Dr Suzanne Tyler, executive director of the RCM trade union, says the issues are often caused by outdated hospital buildings.

Too many of the buildings that house maternity services are simply not fit for purpose,” she said.

“This issue has arisen because of poor ventilation in delivery suites and labour wards.

“These aren’t cosmetic issues. We need to see proper investment in maternity services, including the bricks and mortar.”