Urgent call for government to improve maternity safety in England

A report published today shows that more than half of maternity units in England fail consistently to meet safety standards. Tommy’s is joining the sector in a call for urgent action.

Tommy’s and our partners across the pregnancy and baby loss sector are calling for urgent action from the Government to deliver a world-leading, safe, personalised, equitable and high-quality rights-respecting maternity service.

Analysis published today by the BBC shows that health regulator the Care Quality Commission has rated 7% of England’s 137 maternity units as posing a ‘high risk of avoidable harm’. 48% (66 units) are in need of improvement, while 62 had a good safety rating. The CQC only inspects in England.

In a foreword the 2022 CQC report states: 

‘We know that there are many maternity services that are providing excellent care, but we remain concerned that there has not been enough learning from good and outstanding services - or enough support for that learning from the wider system. Issues such as the quality of staff training; poor working relationships between obstetric and midwifery teams, and hospital and community-based midwifery teams; a lack of robust risk assessment; and a failure to engage with, learn from and listen to the needs of local women all continue to affect the safety of some hospital maternity services.’

Tommy’s is among the pregnancy charities and organisations who have today written to new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Dr Thérèse Coffey MP calling for urgent action.

Led by charity Birthrights, our open letter requests the Government:

  • Accepts the Health and Social Care Committee recommendation to increase resources across the NHS and set out a workforce plan with measures to increase support for staff and staff retention.

A long-standing NHS staffing crisis is putting pressure on maternity services. The NHS in England needs 2,000 more midwives and almost 500 obstetricians.

More than 500 midwives left the profession last year. Midwives are leaving in record numbers due to being unable to give the care they are trained to give, while there are shortages in other parts of the maternity workforce, including obstetricians, sonographers, and neonatal staff. 

  • Renews its commitment to implementing the recent Women’s Health Strategy that seeks to be ambitious in its approach to improving the quality and accessibility of services and information around women’s health.
  • Ensures that learning and recommendations are taken forward from the Maternity Transformation Programme (Better Births), including the rollout of continuity of care as a default mode of maternity care, the NHS Long Term Plan, the Ockenden report and the upcoming East Kent Hospitals Maternity Services report to improve the quality of maternity services and outcomes.

Kath Abrahams, Tommy’s Chief Executive, says:

“It is crucial that the Government upholds its 2019 Party Manifesto pledge to make the ‘NHS the best place in the world to give birth’. Over the past 18 months, we have repeatedly seen the harm caused by maternity care which falls well below national standards and its devastating impact on the lives of women, pregnant people and babies. While most services provide good care and most families have positive birthing experiences, this is clearly not the case for all. 

“The Government urgently needs to take action to make sure all services are safe, and to tackle the inequalities which still see some families experience poorer care and higher risk because of who they are and where they live. Tommy’s is committed to working with the Government, NHS and wider sector to make sure good, personalised and appropriate care is available for all.”