NFWI responds to Public Accounts Committee Report into Maternity Services in England

7 April 2014

Commenting on a report examining maternity services in England, published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Marylyn Haines Evans, Public Affairs Chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes said: "The majority of women have an outstanding experience of maternity care and this should be celebrated, yet this report shines a spotlight on the fact that all too often patchy and inconsistent services are letting women down, largely as a direct result of gaps in the midwifery workforce.  

"The NFWI's report, Support Overdue, examined how midwives are being stretched to their limits, and how this in turn is impacting on women's experience of childbirth.  Working in partnership with parenting charity NCT, we surveyed over 5,500 new mothers who candidly told us about their maternity care from pregnancy, to delivery and beyond. We heard about how 60% of women were simply not getting the post-natal care that they needed, how the choice guarantee promised by the government was failing at all levels, and how the level of care varied dramatically throughout the maternity pathway. 88% women did not previously know their midwife before they gave birth and 13% of women were not cared for one-to-one in labour. Freedom of Information requests to NHS trusts in England and boards in Wales found 80% were not employing the recommended number of midwives while 80% of the closures or suspensions of services were down to too few staff or a lack of beds.

"Almost 2,000 women will give birth today and many will not receive care that is in keeping with NHS England and the Department of Health's aspirations. The lack of midwives is impacting the quality and consistency of care, undermining the policy pledges and commitments made to women, and leaving some new parents poorly equipped to deal with the transition to parenthood.

"We welcome the Public Accounts Committee's focus on the lack of accountability for maternity services. The Committee found that at a local level, it is unclear how commissioners are ensuring maternity services meet the Department of Health's policy objectives, and at a national level, the Department and the NHS struggled to articulate their responsibilities. As the NHS' 'Friends and Family Test' recognises, the best judges of maternity services are the women and families that use the services, so a level of clarity on who is in fact accountable for those experiences is critical. 

 "Maternity services are sometimes referred to as the 'shop window' of the NHS because having a baby is the most common reason for admission to hospital in England. Despite this, and despite the welcome care pledges made to women, promising investment in facilities, and the robust framework of guidance that is already in place, we are still not getting maternity services right. The recent, much welcome, increase in midwifery training places has quite simply not kept up with the birth rate.  The result is that too many women are being let down with a poor experience of care and too many midwives are left unable to deliver the high standards of care that they strive to.

 "The report should be compulsory reading for ministers and NHS England.  I urge them to act upon its recommendations."

Read more about the NFWI's More Midwives campaign here.