Advising with empathy and experience

Improvements could save a thousand babies each year.


A thousand babies could be saved each year if midwives and doctors worked together better and the NHS learnt from its mistakes, an official report is likely to conclude.

A review of maternity services for NHS England will demand an end to “turf wars” between staff, while saying that midwife shifts need to change to ensure that mothers-to-be see the same staff throughout pregnancy and labour.

Head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, asked for recommendations to cope with a baby boom and scandals such as at Morecambe Bay NHS trust, where 11 babies and one mother died due to a “lethal mix” of failure and denial. 

Former health minister, Baroness Cumberlege, who is chairing the review, said:  “The main thing at the moment is safety. We are looking at mechanisms that we think can really enhance it. If we have the same results as Sweden we would save 1,000 babies a year.” 

The figure comes from a study in The Lancet of all 5,700 deaths of babies before, during or shortly after birth, in Britain during a year, which found the NHS record to be far worse than in Scandinavia.

Lady Cumberlege said her review was looking at ways to improve professional relationships as well as care and overhaul how the NHS reviews deaths.

She added: “A lot is about how teams work together. At Morecambe Bay there was a turf war between professions. We need the right ethos and culture.”

She urged medical staff to study Sweden’s system, where a team leader can take charge and tell panicking colleagues to stick to the pre-agreed plan.

She added: “What has the most durable impact on outcomes is the standards they set themselves. We want a standardised system across England. I don’t like saying everyone has to do the same thing, but this is one where it has to be across the country.”

With an extra 100,000 babies born every year compared with a decade ago, the NHS has a midwives shortage, but Lady Cumberlege wants their working practices changed to make sure women know staff who are caring for them.

She said: “We want continuity from antenatal to postnatal care. You have to look at the shift system. We are suggesting teams of four. That means they can all know the woman in question.”