Half of all the new regional plans for the future of NHS services in England do not mention or include very little detail about maternity services, according to the Royal College of Midwives.
It has published an analysis of the majority of the sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) that have been drawn up by groups of local healthcare organisations across the country.
“It is disappointing that there is little or no reference to maternity in so many of the plans”
As part of the NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, clinical commissioning groups, trusts and local government were asked last December to put forward five-year plans for services in their geographical “footprint”. The resulting 44 STPs have now all been published.
The RCM highlighted that the plans should include how areas will meet and deliver the aims of the government’s national maternity review – Better Births: Improving outcomes of maternity services in England – that was led by Baroness Julia Cumberlege and published earlier this year.
Maternity services in England were meant to be embarking on a programme to transform their services in order to make them safer, more effective and more responsive to women’s needs, said the college.
The new RCM report, published yesterday, lists all areas that have submitted STPs and where they have included or not, maternity services in the plans.
It has analysed the 35 STPs out of 44 and said it was concerned that, outside of London in particular, there was “little or no reference” to maternity transformation in many of the plans.
Areas including West Yorkshire, around Bristol and Kent, Cambridge and some parts of the home counties make no mention of maternity services in their plans, according to the college.
Those STPs that do “make passing references with little or no detail” to maternity services include Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside, Suffolk and Surrey Heartlands, said the RCM report.
However, it noted that some areas do include substantial information on their plans for maternity services.
These include areas in the North East, Humberside, the West Midlands and large parts of the South West.
London, in particular, is “leading the way” on maternity, with all the STPs for the capital including substantial detail about plans for maternity services, said the RCM.
Professor Cathy Warwick
RCM chief executive Professor Cathy Warwick said: “When there is meant to be a programme of maternity services transformation it is disappointing that there is little or no reference to this in so many of the plans which will drive service change.
“This may be simply an issue of timing with the maternity review reporting while the STPs were being worked up, but it does raise a possibility that change in maternity services is just not considered to be a priority,” she said.
“In fact, high quality maternity services are the bedrock of a healthier population,” said Professor Warwick. “It is where important public health gains can be made, leading to healthier mothers and also healthier babies with benefits lasting into adulthood.
“We urgently need to see the detail on how all areas are going to meet the recommendations of the government’s national maternity review,” she added.
In contrast to the RCM’s concerns about a lack of reference to maternity services in STPs, there has equally been concern about attempts to cut back on nursing workforce resources in some of the plans.