Trusts to have share of £8 million training fund to improve maternity safety

NHS trusts in England will have a share of an £8 million training fund as part of a drive to make maternity services safer.
Student midwife

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt today launched the government's Safer Maternity Care Action Plan, which will see NHS trusts in England given at least £40,000 towards multidisciplinary training.

Student midwife
Maternity services in England will share an £8 million training fund to improve safety. Picture: Alamy

Other measures include:

  • A £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund which will pilot new ideas for improving care, while maternity ratings for every part of England – using data that already exists – will be published.
  • A new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, modelled on the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
  • Consultation on the idea of a ‘safe space’ initiative to allow clinicians to speak openly without fear of it being used against them in court or professional misconduct hearings.
  • A requirement that each trust should designate one obstetrician and one midwife to be maternity safety champions.
  • A new tool to standardise the investigation of every stillbirth and early baby death so lessons can be learned.

Voluntary compensation scheme

Mr Hunt also outlined proposals for a new voluntary compensation scheme for parents whose children are damaged at birth, as figures show the cost of settling claims has reached more than £500 million a year.

Parents who believe medical errors have caused severe damage to their children would have their claims assessed by independent investigators, who would also speak to staff and parents.

Their findings would be presented to a panel of legal and medical experts who would decide whether any compensation is warranted and arrange for payments to be made to the family.

'Litigation culture'

The government hopes the scheme – which would assess around 500 cases a year – will help dismantle what it sees as a 'litigation culture'.

Mr Hunt said: 'Our NHS maternity staff do a fantastic job under huge pressure.

'But even though we have made much progress, our stillbirth rates are still among the highest in Western Europe and many on the front line say there is still too much of a blame culture when things go wrong – often caused by fear of litigation or worry about damage to reputation and careers.

'These comprehensive measures will give practical support to help trusts improve their approach to safety and help to foster an open and transparent culture so that the courts become a last resort not an automatic first step.'

More resources

Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick welcomed the plan, but said it would have to be backed up with resources amid a shortage of 3,500 full-time midwives in England, a high birthrate and complex births.

‘If implemented it could have a significant and positive impact on the safety of England’s maternity services, and contribute towards better and safer care for mothers and babies,' she added.

‘However, our own research which will be published next week shows that heads of midwifery are having to make significant savings.'

Further information

Safer Maternity Care Action Plan