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Maternity Care

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

We have made improving maternity services so that women have a named midwife responsible for ensuring personalised maternity care the key objective in our mandate to NHS England. Since May 2010 the number of full-time equivalent midwives increased by more than 1,500, and over the past two years I have set up a £35 million capital investment fund, which has already seen improvements to more than 100 maternity units.

The Diamond Jubilee maternity unit at the Lister hospital in Stevenage is doing an amazing job for young mums, and the neonatal unit has just won a national award. I will be visiting the staff on Friday to thank them for their hard work. Would the Minister like to record his support for the staff who do such a great job?

I would be happy to do so. I am aware of the positive difference that the Diamond Jubilee unit has made to local maternity services. My hon. Friend will be aware that the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and the unit have received £314,000 of this Government’s capital funding to support the hard-working staff on that unit delivering high-quality care to women.

In 2001 the then Labour Government closed the maternity unit at Crawley hospital, despite a growing birth rate since then in my constituency. The local clinical commissioning group proposes to reintroduce a midwife-led maternity unit. Will my hon. Friend meet me and the CCG to discuss those plans further?

I would be delighted to do so. As my hon. Friend knows, I have a particular knowledge of his local hospital trust. It was a very short-sighted decision by the previous Government to downgrade and effectively close Crawley hospital, given the demographic pressures there. There is a good case for a midwifery-led maternity unit. Under this Government we are seeing the numbers of those increase. I would be happy to meet him to discuss these matters further.

I welcome the increased number of midwives, but what are the Government doing to support women who suffer from post-natal depression?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We were talking earlier about improving parity of esteem between mental and physical health. When we came to power, only 50% of maternity units had specialist perinatal mental health support, and we will make sure, through the mandate to Health Education England, that by 2017 all maternity units have specialist perinatal mental health support. That is something that this Government will be very proud of.

Last December the UK national screening committee advised against offering all pregnant women a routine test for group B streptococcus. The Minister will recall that I asked about this matter in Health questions last time. The issue is not to screen in all cases, but to ensure that the enriched culture medium test is available where clinicians deem it appropriate. Will the Minister look at how that test can be made available whenever it is clinically necessary?

That is a good point. On screening, we have to listen to the advice of the national screening committee, as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree, but on the enriched culture medium test, I have had further meetings with Group B Strep Support and with the former editor of the obstetricians and gynaecologists journal, the BJOG. On the back of that meeting I have written to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to ask it to look at the clinical evidence on that test, and it will take the matter forward.

I thought that answers to questions were improving after 12 noon, but the last answer on post-natal depression was not as good as I expected. We have a campaign on post-natal depression, which is the biggest killer of healthy young women through suicide. The Minister is being complacent. Early diagnosis and good GPs are essential. What is he really doing about that?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I thought it was disgraceful, when we came to power and inherited the legacy of the previous Government on post-natal depression, that only 50% of maternity units had perinatal mental health support. That was not good enough, and that is why I have ensured that in the mandate to Health Education England, and working with NHS commissioners, all maternity units will have specialist perinatal support by 2017. There is more training going in for the work of the Royal College of General Practitioners on mental health support for GPs in helping women, and we are now increasing the number of health visitors by almost 2,000, and health visitors do a fantastic job in providing perinatal mental health support to so many women.

17. Following the closure of the special care baby unit at Fairfield general hospital in my constituency, new mothers and families are now faced with travelling to either Bolton or north Manchester. In the light of the recent report from the charity Bliss on the costs of having a premature or sick baby, will my hon. Friend ensure that appropriate support is in place for Bury families who are struggling with a baby who needs specialist hospital care? (903435)

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he has been a strong advocate for local mothers and families in his constituency. But he will also be aware that there was a review of maternity services in the Greater Manchester area that recognised that, by changing the way in which services were delivered, there could be improvements and 25 young children’s and babies’ lives could be saved each year. There has been a review, and that review is saving lives, so I commend any similar service reconfiguration that delivers similar benefits to women and patients.