Government's 10-year pledge for maternity services

Proposed maternity package ’will make the NHS the best place in the world to give birth’.

Tommy's news 03/01/2019

The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has announced a new maternity package pledging more specialist staff for critically ill new-born babies over the next five years and improved access to post-natal physiotherapy for up to 285,000 new mothers.

Mr Hancock has said the package has been designed to help meet the Government's target of halving the number of stillbirths, maternal and infant deaths and serious brain injuries in new-born babies by 2025.

Additionally, the traditional red book issued by the NHS for each new baby will be digitised, making children's medical history available on parents' phones.

The proposed package will make the NHS 'the best place in the world to give birth' Mr Hancock has said.

Announcing the plans, the health secretary said:

Today, we will take steps to ensure every expectant mother is supported - from pregnancy to birth to those critical first months of parenthood - with a comprehensive package of personalised, high quality support.

The proposals will be contained in the government’s new 10-year plan for the NHS, expected to be published in the second week of January. 

Tommy's chief executive, Jane Brewin commented on the announcement:

We welcome the focus on improving maternity care and all the hard work which is going on to improve care for women and their babies. The targets to reduce stillbirth, preterm birth and reduce brain injury in new-born babies are particularly welcome as the UK is not currently amongst the safest places in the world to give birth.

While Tommy's welcomes the government's focus on improving maternity outcomes, we’d like to see some specific additional areas focused on in order to achieve the targets:

  • A timed commitment to deliver continuity of care for everyone, but starting with those who would benefit most. 
  • A reduction in variation of treatment options, care and outcomes for parents around the UK to tackle – the so-called 'post code lottery'. 
  • Meaningful action taken to identify poorer performing maternity services and prompt action to resolve issues which lead to substandard care.
  • A consolidated approach to healthcare between GP's, midwives, obstetricians, neonatologist's and health visitors to ensure risks are identified and managed to reduce the number of babies who die during pregnancy. 
  • Care taken to ensure that this bundle is designed to drive the reduction of stillbirth and preterm birth implemented nationally without delay.

Currently, miscarriage is not included in the Government’s ambitions despite the fact that up to 250,000 parents a year experience a miscarriage. We would like to see better care for parents including referrals to investigate the underlying cause after 2 miscarriages (rather than the current recommendation of 3 miscarriages) and better mental health care for those who need it.

What is Tommy’s doing about it?

Here at Tommy's, we believe the best place in the world should also be the safest place in the world to give birth. This means that our rates of stillbirth and preterm birth need to fall considerably. 

We are the largest charity funding research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We also provide information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby. 

Our four research centres also have clinics where we provide specialised antenatal care for women who are at high risk of having miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. They also have an opportunity to be part of our research through taking part in trials for pioneering new treatments. Together with our teams of scientists and clinicians, they are helping us provide the evidence that will make antenatal care better for all.

Our new Tommy’s centre opening in April will be ensuring best practice is implemented around the NHS in support of the Government’s target to reduce stillbirth and preterm birth.

Tommy's work on stillbirth and preterm birth 

Research is vital so that we can understand which women are likely to go into labour early, and help them carry their baby for as long as possible. Tommy’s support cutting-edge work on the causes and prevention of premature birth through our centres in both London and Edinburgh. Clinics at both centres care for women at risk of preterm birth.

Recent achievements

  • Researchers have found that levels of a protein called elafin could be used to tell which women are most at risk of going into early labour.
  • We are helping women around the world have healthy pregnancies by trialling a cheap, easy-to-use saliva test that can tell how likely a woman is to give birth prematurely.
  • The SUPPORT trial is the first ever clinical study comparing the effectiveness of three different treatments in preventing premature birth in women with a shortened cervix.
  • Scientists have found that drugs normally used to prevent heart disease may delay preterm birth.

Our research aims to reduce stillbirth rates by finding the missing links between stillbirth, the placenta, and the baby’s growth. Most of our stillbirth research takes place in our Manchester Research Centre , where we have made great progress in our Rainbow and Placenta Clinics . Research focuses on three main areas:

  1. Understanding the causes
  2. Treatment and prevention
  3. Improving care for women at risk of, and following, a stillbirth

We are already making strides towards our goals.

Recent achievements

  • In St. Mary’s Hospital, we lowered the average number of stillbirths by 19% from 2012 to 2017. This is equivalent to 12 fewer babies dying every year.
  • In Edinburgh, obese women attending our antenatal clinic were an astounding 8 times less likely to have a stillbirth than women receiving standard care.
  • We have developed a new way of looking at the placenta using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This will help doctors tell which women have healthy pregnancies and which babies may be struggling
  • The AFFIRM study is looking at whether a package of care and information for women with reduced fetal movements can lower the number of stillbirths. When a similar package was introduced in Norway, stillbirth rates fell by 30%.

Support after a stillbirth or preterm birth

Stillbirth, or preterm birth (the leading cause of neonatal deaths in the UK) are devastating experiences for families. 

We are here to support families who are going through this very difficult time. We have worked with women who have experienced stillbirth or the loss of a baby after a preterm birth, their families and professionals to develop supportive information below to help parents.

Find information and support after the loss of a baby.