Thank you for contacting me about the provision and quality of maternity services across England.
All expectant mothers must feel assured that their local maternity unit will give them the very best care the NHS has to offer. Sadly, that is not always the case, and there remains significant variation in experience and outcomes for women and their families.
Therefore I think it is vital that maternity care is given the priority, resources and backing this precious part of the NHS deserves.
I think it is important to remember that our amazing midwives go above and beyond every day. They deserve all of our respect, admiration and full support.
Yet I remain concerned that our NHS has been underfunded for too long and maternity units have been understaffed. We are still short of around 2,000 midwives in the NHS in England which, against an overall staffing shortfall of over 93,000, is forcing staff to do more and more and putting them under ever increasing strain.
The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee’s recent report into maternity safety found persistent gaps in all maternity professions. It said current recruitment initiatives do not consider the serious problem of attrition in a demoralised and overstretched workforce and do not adequately value professional experience and wellbeing. The Royal College of Midwives has outlined similar concerns.
Despite widespread vacancies, Ministers have offered no detail on how they plan to recruit or train more midwives, and they failed to bring forward a long term plan for recruitment and retention of the staff our health and care services need in the Autumn Budget and Spending Review. I agree with the Committee’s recommendations that the Government must urgently commit to funding the maternity workforce at the level required to deliver safe care to all mothers and their babies.
The Health and Social Care Committee’s report also found improvements in maternity services has been too slow, with the Care Quality Commission’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals reporting evidence of a defensive culture, dysfunctional teams and safety lessons not learned.
While I welcome the establishment of the maternity inequalities oversight forum, these inequalities have been well understood for a number of years, and so the Government should have acted sooner in this regard.
I will continue to urge Ministers to ensure that maternity services are properly funded and staffed as part of a wider strategy to improve safety across the board. We must address health inequalities in maternity care and ensure all expectant mothers and their families receive the care and support they expect and deserve.