- Baby Lifeline welcomes the main recommendations set out by the Health and Social Care Committee Inquiry report into the safety of maternity services in England.
- The report’s findings and recommendations reflect Baby Lifeline’s research relating to detrimental gaps in maternity safety training, and additional funding and resource needed to improve care.
A report by the Health and Social Care Committee on maternity safety in England finds that improvements in maternity services have been too slow, and highlights several areas which need urgent action to improve care.
A central aim of maternity services going forward – as stated in the report by safer births campaigner Michelle Hemmington – must be to achieve “a safe, healthy, positive experience of birth and to come home with a baby.”
What is clear from this report, and from investigations and reports before it, is that basic elements of safe care are not yet at the point they should be. No maternity unit should be under-resourced in terms of safe staffing levels and staff not being given opportunities to upskill themselves in areas of avoidable harm.
As a charity whose aim is to make every birth safer and better for every woman, birthing person, and baby, we welcome the report’s recommendations for maternity services, and hope that it further informs work already happening nationally to improve maternity care. Baby Lifeline was proud to have given written and oral evidence to the inquiry.
It is clear from the external expert panel’s evaluation of government progress on commitments in maternity services – also published today – that it “requires improvements”, and hopefully this report will give the government a clear idea of where priorities lie (Table 1 – from the report).
Why the inquiry?
There has been a spotlight on the safety of maternity services since the report of Morecambe Bay Investigation was published in 2015, and more recently several large-scale reports and investigations have highlighted key areas of improvement in “scandal-hit” trusts which could be broadened to national care. Last week news broke of another trust where dozens of families have suffered avoidable tragedies.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has rated around 1 in 4 maternity services as either “inadequate” or “requires improvement” and has noted that maternity is one of the core services that is not making improvements in safety fast enough in their report Getting Safer Faster in 2020.
Most families will have a positive birth experience and take home a healthy baby; however, the variation in the quality of maternity care has led to devastating consequences for some families, and this has to change.
Safe staffing and resources
The report highlights culture as a main barrier to learning from harm in maternity services, and there are a number of actions which should now be prioritised. What is clear from the report, and from work carried out by Baby Lifeline is that maternity needs to be properly resourced – safe staffing levels and frontline access to vital training.
Our own research highlighted that frontline staff were not accessing the training elements to the Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle – an evidence-based initiative aimed at reducing stillbirths. When assessing barriers, frontline staff told us that staff shortages and lack of funding were the main reasons behind general access to training in key areas of avoidable harm.
Baby Lifeline is delighted that recommendations from our own research into national training standards – Mind the Gap – are reflected clearly within the report.
We wholeheartedly agree with Committee’s recommendation that maternity budgets need to increase to support improvements, and reiterate that budgets should be ring-fenced for maternity and any money spent is properly assessed for impact and properly audited.
We support the report’s key recommendations:
- Urgent action necessary to address staffing shortfalls in maternity services
- Increase budget for maternity services by a minimum of £200-350m per annum withimmediate effect.
- A proportion of the maternity budget should be ring-fenced for training in every maternity unit with provision of back-fill to ensure that staff are able to attend. This should be reported publicly through annual Financial and Quality Accounts.
- Government as a whole to introduce a target to end the disparity in maternal and neonatal outcomes with a clear timeframe for achieving that target
- Reform litigation to award compensation for maternity cases based on whether an incident was avoidable rather than a requirement to prove clinical negligence
Judy Ledger, CEO & Founder says of the report:
“We welcome the recommendations by the Health and Social Care Committee inquiry report. This is yet another reminder that families are being let down by a service which needs to be properly resourced.
As a minimum standard maternity units should be safely staffed, professionals should have access to vital training relating to avoidable harm, and every woman, birthing person, and baby should have the same level of safe care no matter where they are being cared for. We hope that the recommendations quickly turn into actions.”
- The Safety of Maternity Services in England Report (2021)
- The Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel: Evaluation of the Government’s progress against its policy commitments in the area of maternity services in England (2021)
- Morecambe Bay Investigation report (2015)
- Getting safer faster: key areas for improvement in maternity services (2020)
- Mind the Gap (2018)
- Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle (2016)