Hospital trusts in England have been asked to make a “public commitment” to improve maternity care by implementing new guidance recommending training on perinatal mental health and safe handover.
The Department of Health said it wanted trusts to use the guidance to help them set out “concrete actions” that can be taken to improve the care they offer to mothers and babies.
“This guidance is part of our plan to make our maternity services among the safest in the world”
Suggested actions include rolling out training for all maternity staff on the risks and symptoms of perinatal mental health, ensuring staff focus on safety when handing over at the end of shifts and a board-level focus on maternity safety.
It also highlights steps that hospitals can take to improve across five key areas in maternity services. These include building “strong” leadership, improving staff “capability and skills”, sharing progress and lessons learnt, data capture – including conducting appropriate reviews when things go wrong – and focusing on earlier detection of the risks associated with perinatal mental illness.
“The RCM welcomes the spotlight on maternity with its clear focus on safety and improving outcomes”
The guidance, published by NHS England and titled Spotlight on Maternity, is part of a government “ambition” to halve the number of stillbirths, neonatal death, maternal deaths and brain injuries occurring during or soon after birth.
It follows an announcement on Monday revealing trusts that had successfully applied for money from a £2.2m government funding pot for maternity equipment.
Health minister Ben Gummer said: “This guidance is part of our plan to make our maternity services among the safest in the world.
“Along with the introduction of new equipment and improved training programmes, this guidance will place a further spotlight on our ambition to reduce the number of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries occurring during or soon after birth,” he said.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “It is vital that everyone works together to reduce the terrible tragedy of a baby being born dead or damaged. We must be ambitious in our improvement initiatives.
“The RCM therefore welcomes the spotlight on maternity with its clear focus on safety and improving outcomes. We look forward to working with the government and other organisations on improving the care provided to women, babies and their families,” she said.
The new guidance, which aims to share best maternity practice, also forms part of the national patient safety campaign, Sign up to Safety, launched by the government in 2014.
It was published at ‘Maternity Care: Learning Together’ – a conference for clinicians hosted by the DH on 7 March, which is part of a week of safety activity and awareness.