It is me again, Mr Speaker. Every week, we have four claims against the NHS relating to brain-injured babies, and there is still far too much avoidable harm and avoidable death when it comes to our maternity services. That is why I launched an ambition in 2014 to halve the amount of neonatal death, neonatal injury, maternal death and stillbirths.
The Secretary of State has rightly focused on the importance of reducing infant mortality. The police are investigating the unusually high number of baby deaths at the Countess of Chester Hospital. Will he update my constituents on the progress of that investigation and on the measures being taken to ensure safety at the Countess of Chester, which serves the northern part of my constituency?
First, I should like to thank my hon. Friend for her campaigning on maternity safety, which has engendered huge respect on both sides of the House. She will obviously understand that I cannot comment on that particular police investigation. None the less, immediately after the issues surfaced, safety measures were taken so that the hospital does not now provide care for babies born before 32 weeks, and it is implementing 24 recommendations from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
The shortfall in midwives and the financial crisis in the NHS are threatening the “safety, quality and sustainability” of midwifery services. Those are the words of the Royal College of Midwives. How will the Secretary of State restore the confidence of the RCM and the other professional bodies?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need more midwives. We have 6,000 midwives in training, and we have 2,000 more midwives than we had in 2010. It is also important to recognise the progress that is being made. Stillbirth rates were down 14% between 2010 and 2015, and neonatal death rates are down 10%, so there is some really important progress happening.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituents in Group B Strep Support, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, on the September update to the green-top clinical guidelines on group B strep infection, which I am sure he will agree are a significant step forward in preventing that wicked and wholly unnecessary neonatal infection?
I am happy to offer my congratulations, because that is an incredibly important area. We have done really well on clostridium difficile and MRSA infections, but the rates of other infections such as group B strep and E. coli are higher than they need to be. In fact, I am speaking at a conference on infection prevention and control this afternoon.
Only 57% of maternity units in England have UNICEF baby-friendly accreditation, compared with 100% in Scotland and Northern Ireland and 79% in Wales. What plans does the Secretary of State have to increase UNICEF baby-friendly accreditation to all maternity units?
Despite the rivalry that sometimes happens between our nations, I actually have a lot of respect for some of the patient safety initiatives in Scotland, and we will certainly look at this. However, we have what we think is the most ambitious plan to improve maternity safety not just in the UK but in Europe. This is one of those areas that the two countries should work together on.