Action needed to improve maternity services in England

A "LANDMARK" report highlights understaffing and a persistent "culture of blame" in maternity services in England.

The parliamentary report from the Health and Social Care Select Committee calls for urgent action to address shortfalls.

The report recognises that while the NHS offers some of the safest maternal outcomes in the world there remains worrying variation in the quality of maternity care. A main cause of concern identified by MPs was around staffing.

It cites findings that eight out of 10 midwives reported that they did not believe that there were enough staff on their shift to be able to provide a safe service and every unit has rota gaps for doctors. The Committee recommends, as a matter of urgency, that the Government commits to funding the maternity workforce at a level required to deliver safe care to all mothers and their babies, with an increase in budget for maternity services by a minimum of £200 - £350 million per year.

The report also identified persistent a culture of blame, with patient safety incidents resulting in rising clinical negligence costs without sufficient learning. The Government is urged to reform the clinical negligence system in a way that better meets the needs of families and establishes a less adversarial process which instead promotes learning.

Dr Edward Morris, President at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "We have been deeply concerned for some time now about how stretched and understaffed maternity services in England are. We are well aware that this sort of pressurised environment can affect the quality and safety of care provided to mothers and their babies, and restricts the choices available to women. We fully support all the calls for urgent action to address staffing shortfalls in the report, including the additional funding, which must be a priority in the Autumn’s spending review.

"We also strongly support the report’s recommendation to end disparities in maternal and neonatal outcomes among women from minority ethnic and socio-economically deprived backgrounds, and to implement a clear timeframe for achieving this goal. It’s unacceptable that these health disparities exist and we believe all women, irrespective of location, age, or ethnicity, should be able to access the same high-quality care."

Commenting on the report, an MDDUS spokesperson said: "The Committee's report sets out a welcome blueprint to accelerate more consistent implementation of the lessons learned from a variety of service failures over many years. The focus on learning, rather than blame, is central and the encouragement to regulators to redouble their communication efforts in this area is particularly welcome.

"Although we are not persuaded by the practicability and affordability of its recommendation on no-fault compensation, the report does set out some valuable thoughts which the Government should reflect in its wider review of clinical indemnity, in particular on the need for greater control of legal expenses and controlling settlement costs, not least by properly recognising that the bulk of care will be met by the NHS not the private sector. We urge the Government to reflect on these in its wider proposals."