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Maternity Services

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2007

On 3 April we published “Maternity Matters”, which sets out how we propose to deliver on our commitment to improve maternity services for women. By the end of 2009, for the first time, mothers-to-be will have a guarantee that the NHS will give them real choice. That will include the opportunity to be supported during births, either at home or in midwifery units, by midwives whom they know and trust to care for them.

St George’s hospital in Tooting has an excellent maternity department. Both my children were born there. This summer, the hospital will open a new midwifery-led unit for low-risk women. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such units, which help to create a home away from home for women and their families, should be offered to all who wish to have their babies delivered naturally?

I strongly agree. That kind of midwife-led unit, which can provide superb support for women and their partners and babies, is exactly the kind of development that we want to see repeated in other parts of the country. I congratulate midwives and other staff at St. George’s on that excellent development. The fact that there are 60 more midwives at St. George’s than there were 10 years ago is in part what has helped make that improvement possible.

On 17 March we heard the devastating news that the proposed new children’s and maternity hospital in Leeds would not go ahead, despite having been approved by the then Secretary of State for Health in July 2004. Why has the project been pulled despite leading local specialists having said on 27 March that current services are “not fit for purpose” and that they are anxious about the continuing safety of children in hospital? When will the people of Leeds get the children’s and maternity hospital that they so badly need?

There is no doubt that the people of Leeds need a new children’s hospital and improved services; that has been recognised for a long time. Following the recent concerns and the possible delay in respect of that new hospital, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), recently met the strategic health authority and colleagues from the trust to discuss that and to ensure that issues, particularly to do with cost, can be looked at so that the scheme can get back on track.

Will the Secretary of State congratulate my sister-in-law, who happens to be a constituent, on the recent birth of her son, Thomas, at the Royal Surrey county hospital, and does the Secretary of State share my hope that my constituents continue to benefit from its excellent maternity unit for many years to come?

I am happy to congratulate everybody whose children have recently been born at that hospital, or anywhere else—perhaps I can cover all congratulations at this point. As we discussed earlier, proposals will come forward for improvements and changes in services in various parts of the country, and there will be proper and full consultation on those proposals. It is important to ensure that in the constituency of the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) and everywhere else women and their partners have the proper choice of having a baby at home if that is what they want and it is safe, having a baby at a midwife-led unit, or having a baby in a hospital, where there would be a consultant-led unit as well as a midwifery team. We will guarantee that choice.