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Maternity Services

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

Since 2021, we have invested an additional £165 million a year to improve maternity neonatal care; next year, that figure will rise to £186 million. That investment is leading to progress on outcomes: stillbirths have reduced by 23%, and neonatal mortality rates are down by 30%.

Women continue to be failed by maternity services across England, as has been highlighted by a string of scandals including East Kent, Nottingham and Morecambe Bay. The Care Quality Commission’s maternity inspections over the past year downgraded many maternity units, branding two thirds of them as dangerously substandard and highlighting shortages of staff, among other problems. What additional steps is the Minister taking to ensure that a woman can go into maternity services knowing that she and her baby will come out alive, and can she tell us whether the recommendations of the Kirkup and Ockenden reviews have been fully implemented?

The hon. Lady has touched on three inquiries. The Ockenden inquiry covered the period from 2000 to 2019, the Kirkup review covered the period from 2009 to 2020 and the Morecambe Bay inquiry covered the period from 2004 to 2013, so the Labour Government were also responsible for parts of all those periods.

We are introducing radical changes. We are increasing the number of midwives, which is up 14% since 2010, and the number of midwifery training places has increased by 3,650. We have introduced the maternity disparities taskforce to improve outcomes for those women who face the poorest outcomes, and have also introduced a maternity support programme for those trusts that do badly in CQC inspections—32 trusts are going through that improvement programme right now. Those are some of the things we are doing to improve maternity services.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for birth trauma, I recently commissioned a survey of mums across the UK via Mumsnet on this issue. I was shocked to discover that one in five mothers was not being offered a six-week GP check post-birth. That means that many women with physical injuries or mental health problems are unfortunately not being diagnosed or offered support, which is very troubling. Will my hon. Friend include birth trauma in the future update to the women’s health strategy, and ensure that all mums receive a post-birth six-week check-up with their GP? That check-up must include both the physical and mental health of the mum, not just focus on the baby.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in this place. She will be pleased to know that we are rolling out perinatal pelvic health services in every part of England, which should be in place by the end of March next year. In addition, we are rolling out obstetric anal sphincter injury bundles, which my hon. Friend raised in her debate on birth trauma; those have the potential to reduce the number of tears by 20%. She is absolutely right to be driving this issue forward. It will be covered in the women’s health strategy, but we are not waiting for the second year: we are already making progress in this place.

The Care Quality Commission now says that almost two thirds of England’s maternity services are rated inadequate or requiring improvement in safety, up from 55% last year. The Government have been told time and time again to recruit more midwives, and to value midwives so that they do not want to leave the profession in the first place. As a result of ministerial failure, mothers—especially those from black and ethnic minority groups—do not get the safe, good-quality maternity care that they deserve. What is the Minister’s plan to properly improve maternity care?

The hon. Lady may not have listened to my first answer. We have increased the number of midwives—it is up 14% since 2010—and increased the number of midwifery training places by 3,650. We have also introduced a maternity support programme that is providing intensive support for the 32 trusts that are going through it. The hon. Lady may want to speak to her ministerial colleagues in Wales, where Labour runs the health service, because Healthcare Inspectorate Wales recently issued an immediate improvement notice to Cardiff and Vale University Health Board for its maternity services.