Being an expectant mother is often one of the most fulfilling experiences a woman goes through during a lifetime, but challenges exist. Throughout the country, many women face the threat of less than ideal maternity care, due to restricted access to highly-trained providers, confusion surrounding where to receive the best care, and a shroud of secrecy when problems arise. Early in 2016, the Care Quality Commission published a report revealing the experience of more than 20,000 women who gave birth during 2015. The results highlighted the need to advance the quality of maternity care in the UK, prompting the Safer Maternity Care action plan published in October.
Within the newly released plan, NHS trusts are tasked with reducing the number of neonatal and maternal deaths, and stillbirths throughout the national health system with the help of recommendations laid out by the Better Births report. This month, seven cities were announced as early adopters of these necessary recommendations, each which will implement systems meant to enhance care given to expectant mothers and their children. Those systems include recourse for more personalised maternity care plans, increased access to care providers, and the addition of community-supported services to help manage large caseloads.
The Safer Maternity Care Recommendations
Within the trial systems put in place across the seven pilot cities, a combination of two or more of the recommendations shared in the Safer Maternity Care plan may be implemented to better maternity care in NHS. First, a pool of dedicated funds will be made available to NHS trusts in an effort to enhance the quality of maternity care to patients. That funding will total £8 million, with £40,000 set aside for each NHS trust in the country. Additionally, an innovation fund, intended to spark new ideas for bettering maternity care, will be made available, totaling £250,000.
In addition to increased funding, the Safer Maternity Care recommendations encourage the publication of clinical commissioning group ratings spanning the NHS, effectively allowing patients the ability to understand the level of care available. Behind that recommendation is a rapid resolution and redress scheme that promises to improve transparency within the claim’s processes of NHS trusts when an issue is brought forth. Patients and their families will not have to wait years to get answers – or financial assistance – due to a negligent action in the course of receiving maternity care.
Finally, the recommendations also tout a national program that promotes sharing of information across NHS trusts and the providers who serve maternity care patients. The program is meant to offer a safe space for doctors, nurses, and staff to share best practices and new ideas for offering high-quality maternity care to all patients who enter the NHS.
Although the suggestions for a safer maternity care environment show some promise for expecting patients, concerns remain intact for those who endure the losses associated with negligent care. Stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths are a reality for some patients, often due to poor-quality care provided by overworked, poorly trained providers, but the NHS is notorious for enacting a lackluster system not only for the investigation of negligence issues but for the time it takes to determine what resolution is adequate for suffering families. The rapid resolution and redress scheme built into the Safer Maternity Care recommendations offers a glimmer of hope in the length of time the claims process takes but leaves other issues untouched.
A representative from a UK-based medical negligence law firm, Patient Claim Line, explains, “When a death or serious injury results from poor maternity care, the patient, and her family are likely met with less than helpful communication. Not only does this cause unnecessary frustration, it often leads to a greater feeling of loss.” Most patients who suffer from poor-quality maternity care are not after financial compensation alone, but instead want answers as to why the negligent action took place. The component of the Safer Maternity Care plan only addresses this issue from a financial perspective, and may ultimately leave families with fewer answers and inadequate financial help when it is needed the most.
The ultimate result of the Safer Maternity Care plan promises to have some positive impact on expectant mothers, their children, and their families as services are enhanced across the board of NHS trusts. However, a greater focus may need to be placed on increasing the transparency of care and communication to patients when things don’t go as planned. To make having a child a truly positive experience for women in the UK, more emphasis should be placed on preventing the issues that plague NHS and the maternity care provided to patients.