Comment: We cannot afford to get maternity care wrong

David Amess is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Southend West
David Amess is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Southend West

For too long, maternity care has been neglected in the NHS. Protecting health spending is a necessary step to providing services we deserve.

By David Amess MP

There can be no more personal, emotional or exhilarating experience than watching a baby being successfully delivered. I had the privilege of watching each of my five children being born and can say without doubt nothing quite prepares you for that moment. From a woman's perspective there could be nothing more personal that their relationship with the midwife. Ours was so strong in Basildon that our midwife became Godmother to our children. Despite some improvements in NHS maternity services in recent years, much more must be done to ensure women throughout the United Kingdom receive the best care possible. It is for these reasons that I am raising an Adjournment Debate on the provision of maternity services.

There has been a decade-long baby boom with 100,000 more babies born last year than in 2001. Rises in the number of midwives has gone some of the way towards catching up with this extra demand. Indeed, there were increases of 2,000 midwives in the last three years and over 600 more places for student midwives than there were four years ago. However, these extra midwives are largely swallowed up by the need to provide valuable one-to-one care in labour. Extra demand has also come from growing complexity. Mothers are increasingly younger or older than before and more mothers are overweight or obese. This all requires the need for additional care. Currently we are almost 4,800 full time-equivalent midwives short, based on calculations using established midwifery workforce planning tools.

For too long, maternity services were not a priority within the NHS: spending on maternity care as a proportion of the NHS budget fell from over 3 per cent in 1997 to below 2 per cent in 2006; and the share of the NHS workforce made up of midwives fell throughout the Labour years. Indeed, whilst in 1997 there were more midwives in the NHS than there were managers, by 2009 there were 18,000 more managers than there were midwives.

The price of getting maternity care wrong is extremely high, as the cost of litigation shows and in a time of austerity these are costs the country simply cannot afford. Of the 100 biggest damages payouts made by the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts, 79 derived from obstetric care; and of the total £3bn paid out in damages payouts by the CNST, almost £1.4bn is down to claims deriving from obstetrics. Cutting corners in maternity care carries a heavy human and financial cost.

David Cameron has admitted that this profession is 'stretched to breaking point', 'overworked' and 'demoralised'. During the election, all three parties agreed that more midwives were needed to cope with the continuing shortfall. Rightfully, the NHS was shielded from cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review and this protection should mean that the government is able to provide enough midwives to deliver the level of maternity care that women and newborns expect and deserve.

David Amess is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Southend West

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