A national review of maternity services in England that sets out a series of recommended changes for the NHS over the next five years has been welcomed by midwives, regulators and patient charities.
The Royal College of Midwives said it was “most pleased” the review, commissioned by NHS England, had focussed on putting women at the centre of care by suggesting improvements for more personalised services for mothers.
“The report adds to the wealth of evidence already in existence that much more can be done to reduce inequalities in maternity care”
This view was echoed in comments made by new regulator NHS Improvement – a body being formed from Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority – which noted the report’s proposals for higher quality and more personalised care, alongside plans for better patient safety and mental health support.
Ruth May, newly-appointed nursing director at NHS Improvement, said: “We will continue to work closely with NHS England, and our national partners, to ensure the NHS works more with women to help them make informed choices during and after their pregnancies.”
Patient charity Sands, which provides support to families that have experienced stillbirth or a neonatal death, said the report was a “positive step forward in putting safety first”, referring to the current “unacceptably high” rate of stillbirth and neonatal deaths in England.
“The report adds to the wealth of evidence already in existence that much more can be done to reduce inequalities in maternity care for all pregnant women and their families,” said Judith Abela, acting chief executive of Sands.
Family charity the National Childbirth Trust said it was particularly pleased to see recommendations for improved postnatal care and perinatal mental health services.
“We recognise the review has taken place at a time of austerity but there is good evidence to show the recommendations can bring clear benefits and cost savings”
Elizabeth Duff, NCT senior policy adviser, who was a member of the review team, said: “Baroness Cumberlege describes a vision for all women and every baby that improves outcomes and reduces inequalities…NHS England must now act on these recommendations to turn the rhetoric into reality.”
“We recognise that the review has taken place at a time of austerity but there is good evidence to show that the positive actions recommended can bring both clear benefits and cost savings in the longer term,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Nursing and Midwifery Council said the report would help to transform care for women and services.
The NMC agreed with the recommendation for midwives to learn in multi-disciplinary settings, which it said was already an existing requirement in its education standards.
This was called for by the review team, after it identified a culture of “silo working” and “lack of respect” between maternity staff in some areas.
“These [propsoals] have the potential in different ways to make a significant difference to the way maternity services in England are delivered”
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick, who was a member of the review’s team, welcomed the recommendation to introduce a new staffing model of small teams of midwives to ensure “continuity of a carer” for women.
Professor Warwick said care for women was currently fragmented and that a new model to ensure women know the person caring for then would increase their satisfaction and ensure better outcomes.
The report was realistic in noting midwives would need support and time to change their current working patterns, she added.
She referred to other recommendations as being “radical”, such as providing more maternity care in community settings outside of acute hospitals and a new scheme for mothers to take control over their care budgets.
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“All of these have the potential in different ways to make a significant difference to the way maternity services in England are delivered and will be taken forward in the implementation phase of the review,” she said.
“The RCM looks forward to working with everyone concerned to ensure that this is one report that truly makes a difference for women and their babies,” she added.
The national maternity review published its report – called Better Births: Improving outcomes of maternity services in England – today with recommendations based on seven key themes including personalised care for the mother, continuity of care, safer care and improved mental health services.
It was chaired by baroness Julia Cumberlege and commissioned by NHS England last year, partly in response to another major review, the investigation into University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which followed a number of maternal and baby deaths at its Furness Hospital.