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Maternity safety and the Spring Budget

Posted: 25/04/2024

The government has announced that it will be investing millions into improving maternity care in the UK. On 10 March 2024, as part of the Spring Budget, the Department of Health and Social Care stated that £35 million would be invested into specialist training to make maternity care safer, with £9 million dedicated specifically to preventing brain injuries at birth.

The plan is to take place over the next three years, providing hospital staff with training to reduce the number of avoidable brain injuries at birth. More staff will be trained in resuscitating newborn babies, and the number of midwives will be increased. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Victoria Atkins, stated that the investment was aimed at improving how women are listened to in our healthcare system.

This announcement comes in the wake of several hospital trusts across the UK being investigated for failings in maternity care, leading to the avoidable deaths of mothers and babies, as well as serious long-term injuries. In a number of cases, the failure to listen to pregnant patients was highlighted as one of the problems.

In October 2023, the Maternity Safety Alliance (MSA) wrote to the health secretary requesting a statutory public inquiry into maternity safety, after numerous hospital trusts were rated as inadequate in their maternity care. The Royal College of Midwives shared the MSA’s frustration at the pace of progress in maternity safety, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists agreed that some mothers and babies were still not receiving safe, high-quality care.

Since then, further concerns about maternity safety are regularly in the news. University Hospitals Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust recently admitted that failing to provide antibiotics to a mother in labour likely contributed to the death of her baby son at 14 hours old. Maternity services at the trust were rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission in November 2023.

In February, an investigation into Liverpool Women's Hospital reported that cultural and ethnic bias, as well as low staffing, had contributed to the death of a pregnant black woman, and her baby, from acute intestinal ischaemia.

In November 2023, another investigation found that problems with NHS interpreting services contributed to patient deaths, including that of a Sudanese woman who died from a catastrophic bleed after giving birth at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) noted that there were delays in calling for specialist help and no effective communication with the patient.

Victoria Johnson, associate in the clinical negligence team who specialises in birth injury claims, said: “Maternity care in this country can be fantastic and many of us are fortunate enough to have positive experiences when having our children. However, sadly, as the cases above demonstrate, babies and mothers are still at risk during pregnancy, labour and delivery. It is tragic that lives are being lost in this way and I hope that future deaths can be avoided with more investment into maternity services, training for staff, listening to pregnant people and, importantly, learning lessons from previous cases.

“I also work with a number of clients who have survived but suffered significant brain injuries at birth. These injuries are life-changing for them and for their families. Where the injury was a result of negligent care, there is of course a cost to the NHS too, to compensate the injured child for their injury and help them with their significant, lifelong needs. I am pleased to see that some of the investment has been earmarked for reducing avoidable brain injuries and I hope that this is successful.”

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