Ministers are to invest millions in making Britain's maternity wards safer, it was announced on Wednesday after The Independent exposed a series of cases in which mothers and babies had suffered avoidable harm during childbirth.
The new money, almost £10m, was announced as part of the spending review unveiled by Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, in the Commons and will deliver new pilots of what the Treasury called “cutting-edge training” to improve practice during childbirth.
Significant failings in maternity safety units across the NHS have devastated families and left some babies needing tens of millions of pounds to look after them in later life.
In November last year, The Independent joined with the charity Baby Lifeline to call for a new fund to be set up after exposing the single largest maternity scandal in NHS history at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust, where dozens of babies have died or been left with brain damage.
The new funding will also cover the final year of the independent investigation into the Shrewsbury trust.
In January this year it emerged 138 babies at East Kent Hospitals University Trust had been starved of oxygen at birth, with dozens more deaths. Since then failings have emerged at hospitals in Basildon, Nottingham and across England with the care regulator the Care Quality Commission warning a third of units need to improve on safety.
Derek Richford, whose grandson Harry Richford died as a result of a catalogue of errors at East Kent Hospitals University Trust in in 2017, told The Independent: “We are delighted that the government has recognised the great need for maternity safety training across the NHS. This investment will help to avoid such tragedies that befell Harry.”
The East Kent trust is facing an independent investigation over a string of maternity failings there.
An £8m maternity safety training fund was scrapped after just one year, despite training 30,000 NHS staff in 2016.
The independent investigation into maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust is looking at almost 1,900 cases of poor care. An initial report from the inquiry, looking at lessons from 250 cases, is due to report next month.
In the spending review documents the Treasury revealed the new spending “includes £9.4m to improve maternity safety, including through pilots aimed at reducing incidence of birth-related brain injuries”.
It added: “To continue to improve patient safety and tackle the rising costs of clinical negligence, the government will publish a consultation next year.”
Maternity negligence claims make up less than 10 per cent of claims against the NHS but because of the lifelong care some babies need, the cost makes up half the total for all negligence claims, more than £1.2bn a year.
The government has floated the idea of a rapid redress system where birth injury cases are investigated independently and families given earlier access to compensation. Currently, maternity cases can take an average of 11 years to resolve and force families into adversarial court battles with the NHS.
Stephen Barclay, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “Support for maternity care is vitally important and we will continue to do all we can to prevent avoidable stillbirths, neonatal deaths, and brain injuries in babies.
“As a father myself, one of my priorities is to support the NHS in making sure mothers, babies and their families receive the very best care possible.
“This £9.4m additional funding will ensure we improve our work on strengthening maternity safety and deliver on our promise of bettering outcomes in our world class NHS.”
Jeremy Hunt said: “This is very encouraging, particularly if it means the long-awaited introduction of the Rapid Redress and Resolution scheme. We know better training can make a huge difference in maternity care. This extra funding could save many babies’ lives and avert heartache for many families.”
News of extra investment in maternity safety was also welcomed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Its president, Dr Edward Morris, said: “We are delighted today’s spending review announced an extra £9.4m to improve maternity safety in the UK.
“Failures in interpretation and action in response to fetal monitoring are a leading contributory factor in cases of brain injury and we are keen to see this investment put towards a national maternity training initiative.
“This would see high quality clinical simulation combined with structured organisational learning interventions, to improve systems, culture and behaviour supportive of appropriate fetal monitoring interpretation and response.
“This investment demonstrates a real commitment to better outcomes for women and babies.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “Although it has never been safer to have a baby, obstetricians, midwives and hospitals are working to halve stillbirths, neonatal deaths and brain injuries, and maternal mortality by 2025, and this new funding should help do so.”