Not enough ‘safe care’ for maternity service users, warns NHS England

Adobe Spark (8)The chair of the Maternity Transformation Programme in England has warned that not enough is being done to ensure safety within maternity services. Speaking at the NHS England Health and Care Innovation Expo, Professor Sarah-Jane Marsh, said:

‘There are too many families […] who have not had safe care, who we have let down, and we need to do better.

‘Safety has to be at the heart of everything that we do in our maternity services. We have got to get it right. We know how to get it right, [but] often we just don’t do that consistently.’

In Better Births (NHS England, 2016), NHS England emphasised the need for safer, personalised, professional, family-friendly maternity services, realised through Local Maternity Systems, the maternity element of Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). Here, providers, commissioners and organisations work at a local level to oversee and develop health care issues.

While Marsh called the vision ‘clear’, she cautioned that it was not ‘what is being talked about in every maternity unit in the country at the moment.’

Since the Maternity Transformation Programme was launched in July, 44 Local Maternity Systems have been set up to plan the design and delivery of services to populations of 500 000–1 500 000 people. Marsh claimed that these are making headway, and are looking towards the future of maternity services ‘with a ruthless focus on safety and personalisation.’ Although services are becoming safer, she warns that performance, when benchmarked against maternity staff, ‘is not as it should be’.

Marsh also raised concerns that boards are not as focused on maternity services, saying:

‘We need to have people, at board level, who really understand maternity safety, who understand how to get it right as well as to investigate when things go wrong.’

Marsh stressed that, while visions and national programmes are important,

‘The change that really matters is that which is made by clinical teams on the ground, coming together to want to make a difference for the patients, the families, the women they care for. And the women and families themselves having every opportunity to be able to participate, feedback their experience and work with professionals to improve services.’

Marsh also highlighted the importance of multiprofessional working, saying,

‘We need to see ourselves as one big maternity team […] We have got to move away from the idea that maternity care is purely about the midwives and the obstetricians, because there is so much more to it than that. […] Those who work together and train together ultimately go on to do even more personal and safe care.’

This sentiment was also emphasised by Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, head of maternity, children and young people for NHS England, who said:

‘We are working really hard and we will continue to work hard to ensure that avoidable death is reduced in this country. We have a commitment at the moment on the table from the Department of Health: £8 million has been allocated to support education and training. This fund has been awarded to maternity services to help them develop multidisciplinary training.’

Matthew Tagney, director of the Maternity Transformation Programme, agreed that progress was being made, but warned that the NHS was still far from its target of halving stillbirths, maternal and neonatal deaths, and brain injuries during or soon after birth by 2030:

‘I think there is a tremendous amount happening both nationally and locally.We are on track for 2020 but there is a huge amount more to do.’

While progress is being made on the delivery of better maternity services, there is still a long way to go. This was accepted by Marsh, who apologised to the hundreds of families who had lost babies:

‘You have my commitment and the commitment from the team at NHS England that we will work tirelessly every day to do the things that we know work in patient safety, and to make sure there are no baby deaths in this country that are avoidable.’

References

NHS England. National Maternity Review: Better Births—Improving outcomes of maternity services in England—A Five Year Forward View for maternity care. Leeds, NHS England: 2016

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