Women will be guaranteed one-to-one care by a midwife during labour and birth under a pledge in the Labour Party’s health manifesto to be unveiled on 11 April.
The move, which would be written into the NHS constitution if Labour wins power, comes after a survey showing that one in four women reported being left alone and worried during labour or birth, and evidence that more than one in five maternity units do not provide one-to-one care.
Labour has already promised to recruit 3,000 more midwives in England from a £2.5bn “time to care” programme funded partly by introducing a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m.
The party, which dubs its policy “Call the Midwife” after the BBC TV series, says the shortage of midwives means that the NHS cannot offer women personalised care during labour. It argues that this is not only bad for women, but can result in large costs. Some £480m, almost a fifth of spending on maternity services, goes on clinical negligence cover.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides guidance to improve health care, has found that one-to-one care could result in higher take-up of breastfeeding and a reduction in post-natal depression. It has said the proposed change would reduce clinical errors and negligence claims.
The pledge would ensure that a woman in labour would receive care from a designated midwife for 100 per cent of the time during labour, birth and immediately afterwards. The midwife could change during a long labour.
Ed Miliband, who will launch the health manifesto on 11 April, said: “When our two sons were born we received brilliant care from NHS midwives. I know how important this is for mothers, for babies – and for fathers too – at this special but nerve-wracking time for families.
“But too often staff shortages in the NHS means nurses, doctors and midwives feel they don’t have the time to offer the care that they want - and families need. ‘Call the Midwife’ shouldn’t just be a TV programme from the past but part of our NHS future too. We need to ensure the NHS can offer every woman the personalised one-to-one care we expect from a modern and thriving health service.”
The Labour leader added: “Our fully-funded plan will provide the extra staff including midwives needed to give them the time to care. Because it is time to care for our NHS.”
The Royal College of Midwives, which calculates that 3,000 more midwives are needed, welcomed Labour’s pledge. Jon Skewes, its director for policy, employment relations and communications, said: “So long as the birth-rate does not start to rise again, these extra midwives could potentially eliminate England’s longstanding midwifery shortage, which would be a big achievement. It will also be important to ensure that community midwifery services are also properly staffed. In addition to having one-to-one care during childbirth, women should also get the midwifery support they need during pregnancy and in the days following the birth of their child.”
Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said: “Urgent action is needed to tackle midwife shortages. The number of midwives simply hasn't kept pace with the increase in births over the past decade, leaving new mothers without the care they need at a very vulnerable time. Women in labour can't be left languishing on a waiting list, we need more midwives now.”
She added: "NCT’s feedback from women having babies this year shows that midwives are still overstretched and unable to give the continuity of care that benefits women’s and babies' health outcomes as well as improving their birth experience. Effective and personalised midwifery care is based on a relationship between the midwife and the woman: there must be enough midwives in the NHS staff to enable this to be maintained and ensure the care provided is of high quality, safe and woman-centred."
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