The plans were revealed on 30 December by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and will be made possible by the increase in funding for the NHS, according to the government.
“The maternity package will pave the way forward for improved, personalised care”
At the heart of the overhaul is a major redesign of neonatal services, led by an expansion in staff numbers, including more specialist nurses and new roles for allied health professionals.
When asked by Nursing Times, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it was unable to provide further details or figures about the workforce boost at this stage.
The full plans are set to be laid out in the NHS long-term plan, which was initially due to be published in December 2018 but has been pushed back and is now expected early this year.
Other actions due to be included in the maternity package include:
- Paper child health records – known to parents as the red book – will be digitised
- Digital maternity records for 100,000 women will be piloted by the end of 2019 and rolled out to all by 2023-24
- Improved accommodation and dedicated care co-ordinators will be introduced for critically ill new-born babies from 2021-22
- Physiotherapy will be offered to 285,000 women who experience incontinence after childbirth by 2023-24
In addition, every NHS trust will be required to provide an accredited, evidence-based infant feeding programme in 2019-20 to help encourage new mother to breastfeed their child.
“This must be seen in a wider context than the steps in this announcement”
NHS leaders hope these fresh measures will improve safety, quality and continuity of care to halve stillbirths, maternal and infant deaths and serious brain injuries in new-born babies by 2025 – saving 4,000 lives.
The plans are backed by a previously announced funding increase of around 3.4% each year from 2019-20 to 2023-24.
Prime minister Theresa May said in June last year that by 2023-24 the NHS England budget would increase by £20.5bn in real terms compared with today, which was later confirmed in the budget in October.
Mr Hancock said: “Having a baby is one of the best moments of our lives, so I want our NHS to be the best place in the world to give birth.
“Today, we will take steps to ensure every expectant mother is supported – from pregnancy, to birth, to those critical first months of parenthood – with a comprehensive package of personalised, high-quality support,” he said.
The package will build on previous interventions to drive down infant and maternal deaths, including plans announced in 2018 to train more than 3,000 extra midwives over the next four years.
Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, welcomed the new plans and in particular praised the focus on improving continuity of care and carer for mothers and their babies.
New chief executive takes over at midwives’ union
However, she warned that the initiatives could not be delivered “on a shoestring” and must be supported by ring-fenced investment.
She also raised concerns about how continued cuts to public health funding would impact on these ambitions to halve rates of death and serious injury during birth.
It was revealed over the Christmas period that the public health grant to local authorities from central government will be reduced again from £3.215bn in 2018-19 to £3.134bn in 2019-20.
Ms Walton said: “The drive to reduce stillbirths is again a very positive step. However, this must be seen in a wider context than the steps in this announcement.
“For example, reducing smoking in pregnancy is one of the most important things we can do to begin reducing stillbirth rates, but we are still seeing cuts to public health budgets including smoking cessation services,” she said.
“The overall health of women and our population also needs addressing including issues such as the rising levels of obesity,” said Ms Walton.
“I want our NHS to be the best place in the world to give birth”
She added: “There is a pressing need to focus on many of the root causes and cutting public health budgets simply acts against this.”
Ms Walton also highlighted the importance of improving staff retention rates among maternity services and said many midwives were leaving because they faced “burn-out” due to the demands being placed on them.
The RCM would engage in the planned review of neonatal services and would seek to ensure any changes reflected best evidence and the needs of babies and their families, Ms Walton said.
Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, also welcomed the announcement on the new maternity plans.
“This will help to ensure that the NHS is the safest place for women to give birth and for babies to have the best possible start in life,” she said.
“The maternity package will pave the way forward for improved, personalised care for women during their pregnancy and after birth,” Professor Regan said.
She added: “It is an important step towards further improvement of our maternity and neonatal services, with significant long-term benefits for women and their families in this country.”