Midwives could be transferred from their hospital trusts to work for new maternity networks under plans being examined by the Department of Health.
The government proposed last month to create the new bodies but has not set out what they will be.
The white paper “Liberating the NHS” said the government would develop “new provider networks” for maternity services to “extend maternity choice and help make safe, informed choices throughout pregnancy and in childbirth a reality.”
Nursing Times understands officials are still considering options including whether the networks could be systems of links between maternity units and services, or new independent provider organisations.
The National Childbirth Trust charity proposed that networks become providers in their own right, fully independent of existing trusts.
This would mean midwives transferring to work for the new networks, although obstetricians would continue to be employed by hospital trusts and be subcontracted to the networks.
NCT chief executive Belinda Phipps said moving maternity into networks would stop midwives being constrained as part of hospital trusts. For example they could move from fixed shifts, as is favoured by hospitals, to being linked to mothers and working as needed.
Each network would probably bring together four or five providers, although they would be able to shrink and expand, said Ms Phipps. It is likely the networks, under the NCT proposal, would be trusts or foundation trusts, although they could be social enterprises.
Royal College of Midwives policy director Sean O’Sullivan said existing maternity networks co-ordinated care between different providers. He said these could be made stronger and rolled out nationally, rather than becoming independent organisations.
He said: “If networks were to be a new provider, we would look very closely at details and implications for midwives, and particularly at what the status of the provider would be.”