Midwives and clinical investigation: A review of the literature

Catherine R. Alexander, Fiona Bogossian

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: An allegation of negligence or an adverse outcome during childbirth can lead to clinical investigation of a midwife's practice. Anecdotal evidence suggests midwives find this stressful and disturbing. Aim: Synthesise the evidence relating to midwives' experiences of investigation and the effects on clinical practice and personal wellbeing. Methods: Two database searches were conducted between 2015 and 2016 to identify primary research published between 1990 and 2016. Studies were evaluated for quality using standard instruments. Findings: Despite numerous references to 'litigation' in peer-reviewed journals, little substantive research related specifically to midwives. 11 inclusions comprised three qualitative studies (one with two publications), reporting litigation experiences of midwives and seven quantitative studies (four research groups), identifying risk liability through cyclic surveys of midwives and law reports. Failure to identify deterioration in foetal well-being was a common finding among researchers examining reasons for litigation. Experienced midwives were at highest risk of litigation. Researchers found high levels of distress and abreaction among participants who either stopped working in birth suite or left midwifery. They also identified a level of ambiguity around defensive practices associated with fear of litigation. Conclusion: There is little research regarding experiences of midwives and clinical investigation. Midwives under investigation need appropriate support. Continuing to work during prolonged investigative processes is stressful as reported by midwives who described being "ill-equipped" and "unprepared." Midwives in the review preferred the support of colleagues over counsellors. Educators, employers and regulators need to work collaboratively and incorporate reflective practice in targeted support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-452
Number of pages11
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Investigation
  • Litigation
  • Malpractice
  • Midwives
  • Negligence

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