Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit: ‘More detail required on Government’s plans to improve maternity care’

Today the Government gave its initial response to the independent investigation into maternity and neonatal services in East Kent. Published in October 2022, the investigation launched after the devastating deaths of babies at East Kent University NHS Foundation Trust.

The investigation – led by Dr Bill Kirkup and commissioned by NHS England - highlighted serious failings, missed opportunities to improve, and the impact this has had on families.

Upon publication of the report last year, in partnership with Sands, we urged the NHS to commit to learning, transparency and culture change: bereaved families should not have to fight to highlight systemic failings in maternity services before action is taken. 

We know that inadequate staffing and resources were not the cause of issues identified at East Kent, but other reviews and reports have highlighted issues in this area. A shortage of midwives, nurses and doctors is currently having an enormous impact on delivering safe care. 

In a written statement today, Minister for Mental Health and Women's Health Strategy Maria Caulfield MP thanked the families who came forward to contribute to the investigation and expressed her sympathies for their losses before setting out how the Government is responding to the East Kent report’s recommendations. You can read the full statement here

Commenting on Maria Caulfield’s statement, Rob Wilson, Head of Sands & Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit is calling for a more detailed plan on the practical steps the Government would be taking next: 

“Today’s response from the Government to the Independent Investigation into East Kent Maternity Services is the latest in a number of Government commitments to act on a string of reviews and reports into failing maternity services. All have identified similar themes, and yet this hasn’t yet led to the fundamental change required to ensure that everyone can benefit from safe, high-quality maternity care. Much greater detail is required on the practical steps that the Government is taking. 

“The forthcoming NHS England delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services must include a commitment to a comprehensive, evidence-based system for supporting safe care. It must also ensure there is a culture of openness and transparency.  

“And the Government must commit to a fully funded workforce plan so that nobody is without the care and support they need during pregnancy and the neonatal period.” 

Tommy's Chief Executive Kath Abrahams says:

"The East Kent report made clear recommendations for change and shows that everyone involved in providing maternity care has a role to play in reducing the unacceptable numbers of avoidable deaths. Action must be immediate in overhauling maternity services at a local level and the learnings from East Kent taken onboard nationally too. 

"Dr Kirkup's investigation was the second major report into serious failings in maternity services in England published last year and it sits alongside data showing worsening rates of stillbirth and neonatal death in the UK. This cannot continue. The Government must urgently address and improve our maternity services in order to reduce the unacceptable number of avoidable deaths and the devastation these losses bring to families.”