New maternity services funding announced

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced new funding for maternity care services, to help support care at childbirth.

The funding will support a research partnership between the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute at the University of Cambridge, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and will test the best ways to spot early warning signs of babies in distress.  

The Avoiding Brain Injuries in Childbirth (ABC) collaboration, comprised of those three organisations, is set to receive over £2 million. This includes nearly £450,000 which has been made available to the RCOG to create a new workforce tool for maternity departments, to improve how they calculate their staffing requirements. The tool is due to be rolled out for free next year.  

Nadine Dorries MP, who is the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, said: “I am determined to make sure as many mums as possible can go home with healthy and happy babies in their arms. This new programme, which we’re supporting with over £2.45 million, aims to spot warning signs earlier and save lives, preventing families and their babies from facing the horrific ordeal of a life-changing brain injury. It will help us deliver on our ambition to halve brain injuries during birth by 2025.

 “Having the right maternity staff in the right place at the right time means they can learn from one another, give the best care for mums and babies and build a safe and positive environment for both staff and pregnant women in maternity teams across the country.”  

The Department of Health and Social Care also aims to halve the number of stillbirths, neonatal, and maternal deaths by 2025.  

Chief Midwifery Officer for England, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, said: “Providing safe and effective care to babies and their mothers is a key priority for the NHS and this new support will bolster our own Maternity Transformation Programme to prevent brain injury during birth – which we aim to reduce by at least half over the next five years.” 

The ABC is targeting the end of this year as the point at which to release a new and enhanced approach towards maternity monitoring, with the following measures planned:

  • Testing different approaches to monitoring babies during labour and surveying maternity staff to see how midwives and obstetricians currently identify when a baby is in distress.
  • Interviewing women and their birth partners on these varying approaches, based on their personal experiences.
  •  Agreeing on a clear process to monitor babies and record readings during labour, with a flowchart guide to decide when to escalate a case to the wider multi-disciplinary maternity team.  
  • Developing a nationally agreed approach to delivering babies via caesarean section when there are complications with the baby’s positioning.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive at the RCM, said: “Every avoidable brain injury leaves families devastated and affects midwives and maternity staff. For the vast majority of women and their babies, the UK is a safe place to give birth. However, tragically avoidable brain injuries do happen. We must work together in maternity services to do all we can to reduce avoidable brain injuries during birth.

 “Partnership working is the key to improving safety for women and their babies. This funding will enable the RCM and RCOG, in partnership with DHSC, to review approaches to monitoring babies during labour. More multi-disciplinary training in this area will ultimately go towards improving safety for women and their babies. Crucially, this review will also include the voices and personal experiences of women and their birth partners to enable maternity to inform better, safer care.” 

 “The RCM also welcomes the funding that has been allocated to the RCOG to develop a new maternity obstetric workforce planning tool. Far too many maternity reviews have cited understaffing and the impact that has on safety in maternity services. The development of such a tool will bolster safety and improve on the current maternity staff skill mix, which is key to delivering safe, high-quality maternity care.” 

The news reflects a wider array of changes that have been taking place within maternity care over recent months. Recently we reported on a maternity staff vote for a standardised uniform and a new maternity care plan launched by Cornwall NHS Foundation Trust.