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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
'Patchy' maternity services criticised
Mother and baby
The report criticised the care given to new mothers
The quality of maternity services is patchy and some women get better treatment depending on where they live, according to MPs.

Two reports by the Commons health committee highlight inequalities in NHS maternity services.

They also show that some women are stopped from having the birth they want in some parts of the country.

MPs suggested a lack of money and staff shortages are to blame.

They called on the government to take urgent action to improve the situation.

The reports indicate that many of the reforms promised by the last Conservative government more than 10 years ago are still not being fully implemented.

Broken promises

In particular, they say ministers are failing to keep a pledge not to close small maternity units.

They also criticised the fact that some women are still being forced to give birth in hospital despite a promise to allow more to give birth at home.

Maternity services are facing a major staffing crisis
Professor Bill Dunlop,
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
MPs said many women are not able to make an informed decision on how they want to give birth.

They suggested some women were having caesarean sections without fully understanding why.

Labour MP Julia Drown, who chairs the maternity services sub-committee, suggested enabling women to make informed decisions could reduce claims against the NHS.

"Genuine informed choice on tests and interventions may help to avoid the increasingly litigious culture," she said.

The reports suggest that asylum seekers, the disabled and the poor are worst affected.

"We identified problems with access to interpreting services for people who do not speak English as their first language and for those who are deaf," Ms Drown said.

She said MPs had heard evidence of good practice but these varied across the country.

"We have been encouraged by evidence of strong partnerships between members of maternity teams and of their commitment to developing partnerships between the woman and her carers in planning and making decisions," she said.

"But there are significant variations in services across the country and it is clear that not all families are getting the support they need," she said.

"Our report urges the government to take action to support maternity teams in their efforts so that all pregnant women and new mothers feel that they have control over their care and that their wishes are respected and supported."

Staff crisis

Professor Bill Dunlop, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, backed the findings.

"It is important that all women have equitable access to maternity services," he said.

"Maternity services are facing a major staffing crisis, both of midwives and experienced obstetricians."

He added: "Without adequate numbers of appropriately trained and experienced staff, choice in maternity services will continue to be restricted and the safety of women in labour will be at risk."

Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley, who is a member of the health committee, said: "The saddest indictment of our maternity services is that there aren't enough midwives to go around.

"Without enough midwives, there cannot be real choice."

A Department of Health spokesman said the government was committed to ensuring women receive clear and unbiased advice so they can make informed choices about their care.

"There has been an increased flow of investment and reform in NHS maternity services.

"We know things are improving, but more needs to be done. 100m has been allocated over two years to modernise and upgrade over 200 maternity units in England."

The spokesman said more expert staff, including midwives and consultants, had been recruited.

Maternity care praised
30 Mar 03  |  Health
Caesarean rate 'should be cut'
21 May 01  |  Health

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