‘Maternity safety’ investment to boost recruitment and training

Midwifery leaders have welcomed plans by the government and NHS to invest millions in maternity safety including through increased recruitment and training of midwives, announced in the 2024 spring budget this week.

On Wednesday (6 March), chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt outlined the UK Government’s plans for the coming financial year.

“We all owe it to women and families to make sure they get safe, high-quality maternity care”

Gill Walton

Measures included a reduction in national insurance and money for NHS “productivity” improvements such as an overhaul of IT services and the implementation of artificial intelligence.

Spring budget documents also revealed that the UK Government and NHS England would be investing £35m over three years for “improving maternity safety across England”; although there is ambiguity over whether this is all new money.

The papers stated that the money would be used to fund measures including the creation of 160 new midwifery posts.

In addition, £9m will be used for an “avoiding brain injuries in childbirth” programme to help maternity services reduce avoidable brain injuries in newborns.

An unspecified amount of the £35m will be used to train 6,000 midwives in neonatal resuscitation, and to “nearly double” the number of clinical staff with specialist obstetric medicine training.

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The budget documents also stated that some of the £35m would be used to fund and support a “maternity and neonatal voice partnerships” programme, aimed at improving how feedback from women in maternity is actioned.

Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) chief executive and general secretary Gill Walton said she was “delighted” the government was taking action on maternity safety.

“We all owe it to women and families to make sure they get safe, high-quality maternity care,” said Ms Walton.

“One of the most effective ways of doing that is to ensure we retain the staff we have, and ensure that they receive the training they need.

“Midwives do not work in isolation and multi-professional working plays a vital role in the provision of high quality care for mothers and their babies.”

She added that both the RCM and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) agreed that continued training of staff was a “key component” to safe maternity care.

Ms Walton said: “We look forward to discussing what the budget announcement means in practice with the secretary of state in the coming weeks.”

Royal College of Midwives

Gill Walton

Mr Hunt’s allocation of £3.4bn towards NHS “productivity” included boosts to both the NHS App for patients, and a new rostering app for staff.

RCM chief Ms Walton said midwives would welcome this change and aired optimism that it might improve flexibility for staff who need it.

“We have long been arguing that flexible working in the NHS is vital to boost retention of midwives and maternity support workers,” she said.

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Also commenting on the budget, Dr Ranee Thakar, RCOG president, said: “Across maternity services, there are multidisciplinary teams skilled at working together to deliver high quality care.

“However, the inescapable reality is maternity services are under incredible strain, so we welcome this much needed investment for maternity staffing and training, which will help to retain our skilled maternity workforce and to deliver improvements in care.”

The budget did not, despite calls from professional bodies and universities, include plans to forgive student debt for nurses or midwives.

The RCM today (7 March) asked the government to give English midwifery students parity with their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish equivalents and to introduce provision for free midwifery education.

It wants midwives to have their tutition fees paid for them in exchange for working in the NHS post qualification, alongside an annual, non-repayable bursary of £10,000.

In addition, it said debt forgiveness should be introduced for midwives who were impacted by the loss of the bursary in England in 2017.

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