Call for evidence from inquiry into safety of maternity services in England

The King's Fund has today issued a call for evidence to an independent inquiry into the safety of maternity services in England.

The year-long, wide-ranging investigation invites professionals across the field of maternity services to help identify obstacles to the delivery of improvements in the safety of maternity services and to propose strategies to overcome them.

Evidence will be taken in writing from professional bodies, and people working in maternity services also have an opportunity to respond personally. Later in the year, a series of oral evidence sessions will be held.

At this stage the panel of experts, chaired by Baroness O'Neill, President of the British Academy, would like professionals to help them answer three questions:

  • What are the main problems relating to the safety of maternity services?
  • How can the safety of maternity services be improved?
  • What are the barriers to achieving these improvements?

The inquiry will review all the currently published data, including reports dealing with deaths and complications around pregnancy and birth. The maternal mortality rate has fallen steadily from the 1930s to the 1980s, since when it has stubbornly remained at the same level.

Baroness O'Neill said: 'At present it is sometimes difficult for a woman with a straightforward pregnancy to work out whether it is safer to give birth in a hospital, in a midwife-led unit or at home. The inquiry will try to establish a stronger evidence base for decision-making.

'There are thousands of dedicated and skilled professionals and support staff working in maternity services, and as well as hearing from their professional bodies, we want to hear about their personal experiences of what is working and what is not working; what has been achieved and what still needs to change. The Inquiry wants to deliver positive recommendations that will promote the best practice for the health of mothers and babies.'

King's Fund Chief Executive Niall Dickson said: 'There is a wealth of insight and expertise within the maternity services. The King's Fund inquiry is seeking to tap into this and understand better the obstacles to safer care.'

See more on our maternity services inquiry

Notes to editors: 

1. The first stage of the inquiry will take evidence from 1 May to 30 May, 2007. Oral evidence sessions will be held between June and September 2007. For further information, please contact the Fund’s Press and Public Affairs Office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581.

2. The following are examples of recent high-profile reports on quality and safety in maternity services:

Understanding the patient safety issues for some vulnerable groups of women known to be at higher risk of maternal death or morbidity. NPSA. February 2005.

Investigation into 10 maternal deaths at, or following delivery at, Northwick Park Hospital, North West London Hospitals NHS Trust, between April 2002 and April 2005. Healthcare Commission, August 2006.

Why Mothers Die 2000-2002 - Report on confidential enquiries into maternal deaths in the United Kingdom. CEMACH, 2006.

3. As well as Baroness O’Neill, the inquiry panel is Jocelyn Cornwell, Visiting Fellow in Health and Social Care at the London School of Economics; Charles Vincent, Director of the Clinical Safety Research Unit at Imperial College London and Alistair Thompson, Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University of Dundee. The Inquiry is supported by three professional advisors: Alison Macfarlane, Professor of Perinatal Health at the School of Midwifery, City University; Lesley Page, Visiting Professor of Midwifery at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College London and Zoe Penn, Clinical Director for the Women’s and Children’s Directorate at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

4. The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.