NHS to spend almost £100m improving maternity safety after Shrewsbury care disaster

New money will include investment in training for midwives and doctors as well as increased recruitment to boost staffing levels

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 25 March 2021 21:08 GMT
NHS England is to invest £96m to improve maternity safety after the Shrewsbury care scandal
NHS England is to invest £96m to improve maternity safety after the Shrewsbury care scandal (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The NHS is to spend almost £100m to make maternity units across the NHS safer for mothers and babies in a major victory for families and The Independent – which has been campaigning for better training for midwives and doctors.

NHS England announced the investment on Thursday in response to the care scandal at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust.

As well as boosting the numbers of midwives and doctors on wards, NHS England said the money would include an extra £26.5m for safety training for midwives and doctors across England.

The £96m represents one of the biggest investments in maternity services for decades. A total of £46m will be to used to recruit 1,000 extra midwives along with £10m for the equivalent of 80 extra doctors. As well as training cash will also be used to create new roles to oversee trusts safety and help recruit staff from overseas.

The investment is a direct response to the poor care at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust where The Independent revealed in 2019 that dozens of babies and mothers had died or been left brain damaged as a result of persistent poor care over decades. An inquiry is examining more than 1,860 cases, making it the largest maternity scandal in NHS history.

Rhiannon Davies, whose daughter Kate died as a result of mistakes at the trust in 2009, and who has campaigned to expose the failings ever since said: “It’s absolutely amazing. When I found out about it I danced around the kitchen. We have campaigned for 12 years to get to this point.

“The collective weight of grief from all the families has forced NHS England to acknowledge for the first time there is a massive problem in maternity and invest to change it. This is a step change that hasn’t happened before. Over the years people told us we wouldn’t get anywhere, the system was too big, it would never change. We have proved them wrong.”

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The inquiry into Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, led by Donna Ockenden, published its first report in December. It revealed widespread problems at the trust and a poor culture that forced women to undergo traumatic births to avoid caesarean sections. On some occasions this left babies with fractured skulls and broken bones.

A total of 13 women died giving birth at the trust between 2000 and 2019 and the trust is facing a separate police investigation.

Announcing the investment, Sarah Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Trust and lead for maternity improvement across England, said that despite improvements over the past five years there had been “some awful stories, where we know that in either individual pockets in services, or sometimes across entire services, we have let women and families down collectively, and often we do see clustering. We can’t say that they are related to just one-off incidents or isolated happenings.”

NHS England’s chief nurse Ruth May said the findings from the Shrewsbury inquiry were “harrowing” adding: “I recognise the deep and lasting impact on those families who have lost loved ones, and those who continue to live with the injury and the trauma that has been caused.

“We know from all of the research that when people train together, they’ll work better together long term and that’s why a significant amount of this investment is to make sure that people are released to go and learn together and that I’m sure will help the culture.”

Following the first report by Donna Ockenden in December, NHS trusts were given seven immediate actions to take to improve safety and NHS England has launched new measures to ensure trusts are implementing all the recommendations.

Since the Shrewsbury scandal, concerns have been raised about maternity services in other trusts across England, with the Care Quality Commission warning almost 40 per cent of NHS maternity units need to improve on safety.

Hospital leaders have said the NHS needed up to £400m to improve safety in maternity services and the NHS is short of more than 2,000 midwives.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the money was only a start. He told the board there had been too many examples of what he called “unacceptable practice”, adding: “We’ve just got to call it as it is and say that is not good enough and we will not put up with that anymore.”

He added: “I think the £96m we are allocating today will drive a lot of positive change across maternity services, but we should be under no illusion that that will be mission accomplished. We will need subsequent tranches of additional funding to do the job that needs doing in maternity services across the NHS.”

President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Eddie Morris, said the money was “one of the biggest investments in maternity services for decades” and he said the investment in staff training together would “lead to lives being saved”.

He added: “This is the start of a very detailed conversation” around the workforce levels and training that staff got.

“If you get those two things right, you have a workforce that feels more supported and more able to do the job that they love to do and want to come to work every day to do a great job.”

Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, told The Independent she was pleased NHS England had indicated the money would be added to budgets in future years.

“This is a significant amount of money. It is a good start but we will be keeping a really close eye on the future, so that we don’t go back to where we’ve been before with really poor staffing levels which we absolutely believe is one of the key system issues for poor safety in services.”

Judy Ledger, founder of Baby Lifeline, said: “Funding and sufficient resources to ensure maternity services are able to release staff to attend training remains a significant barrier – we are delighted that this one of the areas earmarked for urgent investment.

“Baby Lifeline would like to pay tribute to the families affected by events at Shrewsbury and Telford to whom we owe a debt of gratitude to for all their work to push for learning and change.”

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