Labour has said it will ensure every woman is guaranteed one-to-one care while giving birth, as it unveiled its election manifesto for health at the weekend.
This ratio will be made possible through its already announced pledge to provide 3,000 extra midwives by 2020, claimed the party.
If it were to win the general election, Labour said it would also ensure all student midwives received training focussing on perinatal mental health.
This would form part of its plans to ensure all NHS staff are trained in mental health, its manifesto stated.
“The answer to the challenges we face is… to ensure the NHS has enough doctors and nurses with the time to care and to join up services from home to hospital”
Meanwhile, the party said it will ensure local GP surgeries can guarantee same-day consultations with a nurse or doctor, adding that appointments would be provided within 48 hours.
The party reiterated its pledge to recruit 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and 5,000 more care workers by 2020, but did not explain how many nurses would work across each setting.
The Labour health manifesto – titled A Better Plan for the NHS, Health and Care – acknowledged that the provision of extra staff will require “action on a range of fronts,” including increased numbers of training places, new targeted apprenticeship routes into training, better retention of existing staff, and encouraging more staff to return to practice.
It claimed that the 3,000 additional midwives the party had promised would ensure “for the first time” that every woman in labour would receive one-to -one support from a midwife, which would improve the quality and safety of care.
The commitment follows the recent publication of guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence on safe staffing in maternity settings in England, which stated that at least one registered midwife should be present for every woman in established labour.
“In addition to having one-to-one care during childbirth, women should also get midwifery support during pregnancy and in the days following the birth of their child”
The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the party’s pledge on one-to-one maternity care through a boost in midwife numbers, but called for Labour to ensure community midwifery services were properly staffed as well.
RCM director for policy, employment relations and communications Jon Skewes said: “So long as the birth rate does not start to rise again, these extra midwives could potentially eliminate England’s longstanding midwifery shortage, which would be a big achievement.
But he added: “Welcome as this [Labour] commitment is, it will also be important to ensure that community midwifery services are also properly staffed. In addition to having one-to-one care during childbirth, women should also get the midwifery support they need during pregnancy and in the days following the birth of their child.”
A midwifery academic warned Labour that it must back up its promise of 3,000 more midwives by tackling the spiralling stress levels currently forcing thousands of NHS professionals to leave the service each year.
“We don’t just simply need more midwives, their working environment needs to be improved to stop so many leaving the profession,” said Alison Edwards, senior lecturer in midwifery at Birmingham City University
“Women having a designated midwife is actually very old news and has been on the table for years”
She noted that many midwives worked part-time, but stress and sickness rates were “still very high”. Many midwives have “such hectic workloads that they’re working for free and over their contracted hours”, she stated.
Ms Edwards added that women having a designated midwife was “actually very old news and has been on the table for years”.
“Many women do see the same midwife in the antenatal and postnatal periods already, but midwives don’t always rotate into the labour areas. If a woman’s labour lasts for a number of shifts then naturally they’ll see different midwives, so Miliband’s pledge of one-to-one care won’t always work,” she said.
Other pledges in the Labour health manifesto include an ambition to increase “over time” the proportion of mental health funding spent on children, and also to “set out a strategy and timetable” to deliver a waiting-time standard of 28 days for access to talking therapies for both adults and children.
The party also committed to integrating health and care services into a “seamless system of ‘whole-person care’ ”, coordinating physical, mental and social care through multi-disciplinary teams of workers.
A previous pledge to increase training places for nurses and other NHS staff to reduce reliance on overseas recruitment and agency staff – including 10,000 more nurse training places by 2020 – was also reiterated in the manifesto.
In addition, a mandatory review of case notes for every death in hospital forms part of Labour’s plans to improve patient safety. The party also claimed it will help staff raise concerns by laying out a “clear expectation that all NHS and care staff receive training in whistleblowing”.
Repealing the Health and Social Care Act and committing to national pay frameworks for staff and the independent NHS Pay Review Body, are also part of the plans laid out in the manifesto.
In their foreword to the manifesto, Labour party leader Ed Miliband and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “The answer to the challenges we face is not to set hospital against hospital, but to ensure the NHS has enough doctors and nurses with the time to care and to join up services from home to hospital.
“We are committed to raising £2.5bn extra over and above the Conservatives’ plans – through a mansion tax on properties over £2m, tackling tax avoidance and a levy on tobacco firms – to invest in new staff and support service transformation,” they stated.