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Maternity services of the future: what can patients expect from NHS providers?


    Rosie Blacker writes about the plans for national testing of proposals to improve maternity care across England, and what this will mean for patients.

    By Rosie Hodgetts

Many of us may have read the National Maternity Review Report published earlier this year on ‘better births’ and proposals for improving outcomes of maternity services in England over the next 5 years.  The report makes for positive reading, but what does it mean in reality, and what can patients expect in the future?

Fundamental principles

It has been recognised within the review that the 2 fundamental principles surrounding childbirth are:

  • the importance of women being able to make choices about their care; and
  • the safety of mother and baby.

It is recognised that, whilst childbirth is not without risk, every woman has the right to expect the safest possible birth for herself and her baby. Each woman should also be cared for by services which fit around and respect her and her baby’s needs and circumstances.

Vision for future maternity services

With the fundamental principles, above, in mind, the vision for maternity services in the future across England is for them to become safer, more personalised, kinder, more professional and more family-friendly. This would mean that each woman will be provided with access to information to enable her to make the best choices about her own care and to understand where she and her baby can access support that is centred round their needs.  Additionally, staff should deliver care which is centred on the mother in organisations which are well-led and a culture which promotes innovation and continuous learning, and which breaks down organisational and professional boundaries.

It is all very well however for the report to make these recommendations, but what does this mean in reality?

The report lays out a number of recommendations as to how personalised care could be delivered to each woman and her child including:

  • being able to choose the provider of ante-natal, intra-partum and post-natal care; and
  • empowering women to make decisions about the support and information that they need throughout their pregnancy and delivery of their baby.  This includes the choice as to whether they would prefer to give birth at home, in a midwifery unit or in an obstetric unit.

Testing maternity services of the future

On 9 November 2016 Sarah Jane Marsh, the Chair of the Maternity Transformation Programme and Chief Executive of Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Birmingham Women’s Hospital, announced seven local areas who would be taking forward the recommendations set out in the review to test a range of ways of working to help transform maternity services. These areas will be: Birmingham & Solihull STP, Cheshire & Merseyside STP, Dorset STP, North/Central London STP, North West London STP, Somerset STP, and Surrey Heartlands STP.

It is believed that these areas will cover a population of approximately 9 million with around 126,300 births each year. A share of up to £8 million will be provided over the next two years to support this change in maternity services.  They will trial using more teams of midwives to offer greater continuity of care, create single points of access to a wider range of maternity services, make better use of electronic records to provide more joined-up care, improve post-natal care, and provide better personalised care planning.

As clinical negligence solicitors, acting in many cases where mums and babies have suffered injuries due to poor care around the time of childbirth, my colleagues and I are pleased to see that the NHS is testing these proposals, and hope that they will contribute to improved maternity care in the future. We will be following this with interest.


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