Maternity units to be part of major new initiative to support safe services for mothers and babies

A major new initiative to help maternity units in England create systems that ensure they consistently deliver the safest possible care during labour to mothers and their babies was launched today.

Maternity professionals from 12 units will build on their existing local initiatives aimed at providing safe services to mothers and babies by developing systematic approaches to ensuring safety. They will be part of a network of units that will employ practices proven to improve safety, and then share their learning with other maternity services throughout England. The network is part of the Safer Births initiative*, a partnership of organisations that is supporting frontline professionals to improve the safety of maternity care.

While the overwhelming majority of births in England are safe, according to The King's Fund report Safe Births: Everybody’s business (2008), a number of reviews over the past few years have identified challenges for maternity services. Key areas for improvement include: teamworking and communication; staffing and training; leadership; and the use of information and guidance. The Safer Births network will be focusing on these four areas.

The 12 multidisciplinary teams were chosen from a total of 50 maternity units that applied to join the network, and all underwent a rigorous selection process. Over the next 18 months each team will benefit from customised support to develop and implement plans designed to create systems that ensure they consistently deliver the safest possible care during labour to mothers and their babies. As members of the Safer Births network, the 12 teams will have regular face-to-face networking and learning opportunities, and use a dedicated, secure website to exchange ideas, ask questions and share learning.

The participating teams are:

  • Barts and The London NHS Trust
  • Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust
  • Kingston Hospital NHS Trust
  • Medway NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust
  • North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
  • Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
  • Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust
  • South Warwickshire General Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Stockport NHS Foundation Trust

Responding to the announcement that Derby Hospitals NHS Trust has been successful in its application to join the network, Duncan Bedford, Associate Director for Women's and Children's Services said: 'Providing safe care to all our mums and babies is already a high priority for everyone working in our maternity unit. Being part of the Safer Births network will mean that we can really build on our record of safety by benefitting from external expertise and advice, and share experiences with other teams around the country. This will be especially useful as we prepare for our CNST assessment in 2010.'

Mark Jennings, Director of Health Care Improvement at The King's Fund, said:

'There is no doubt that maternity services are introducing new ways of working that should improve the safety of care provided to mothers and babies. This is very encouraging. We want to build on the local innovation we know is happening around the country and ensure this best practice spreads to all maternity units. Our network will help frontline maternity staff exchange ideas and good practice with other units and it will give them the practical advice and support they need to improve safety. This will be tailored to their local needs and priorities and we believe these approaches to ensuring safe services will inspire other maternity professionals.'

Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said:

'We welcome and support this ground-breaking initiative and unique partnership of organisations supporting frontline NHS staff to improve the safety of maternity care. Improving teamwork, communication and pioneering a multi-disciplinary approach to maternity teams will be an integral part of helping maternity units implement the government's choice guarantees for maternity care, which come into place at the end of this year.'

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, RCOG President, said:

'We welcome this initiative and look forward to the best practice that will emerge from the networks. The RCOG will support these projects through the Regional Advisers by using the electronic dashboard tool to measure improvement in safety and quality.'

Find out more about the Safer Births programme

Notes to editors: 

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King’s Fund press and public affairs office on 020 7307 2585 or 020 7307 2603. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. *The Safer Births initiative is a partnership between The King’s Fund, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries, NHS Litigation Authority and the National Patient Safety Agency. It aims to improve the safety of maternity services by supporting frontline professionals.
  3. The Safer Births network aims to improve the outcomes of care during labour and birth for women and babies. The network will provide customised support to 12 multidisciplinary maternity teams in England from a service improvement specialist. Bespoke consultancy support and access to the expertise, tools and activities of the Safer Births partners will also be available. The Safer Births initiative will organise face-to-face networking and learning opportunities for network members and also facilitate the exchange of information and learning via a secure online facility. Regional events will bring network members and other teams together to help share learning and best practice within strategic health authority regions. All maternity professionals will be able to register online at www.kingsfund.org.uk/saferbirths for free access to learning, tools and reports produced by the Safer Births initiative.
  4. Trusts across the country were invited to submit an application to join the network. The application process required trusts to write a project proposal setting out their patient safety issues and how they plan to go about tackling them. Applications were selected according to a number of criteria, including how well the aims of the improvement work were conveyed, how clearly the patient safety challenges were expressed and the extent to which the wider team and trust board were engaged in, and committed to, improvement work. Shortlisted sites were then visited by the selection team. Visits provided teams with the opportunity to demonstrate their will to make improvements, their ideas for change and their capacity to execute the work.
  5. The King’s Fund is a charity that seeks to understand how the health system in England can be improved. Using that insight, we help to shape policy, transform services and bring about behaviour change. Our work includes research, analysis, leadership development and service improvement. We also offer a wide range of resources to help everyone working in health to share knowledge, learning and ideas. In 2008, The King’s Fund published the report of its independent inquiry into the safety of maternity services, Safe Births: Everybody’s business.
  6. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) aims to promote and advance the profession of the midwife. The RCM represents the vast majority of the UK's midwives and is one of the world's oldest and largest midwifery organisations, and celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2006. It is also a trade union. For more information visit the RCM’s website at www.rcm.org.uk
  7. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is dedicated to the study and the advancement of standards in women’s reproductive healthcare. It does so through publishing working party reports, scientific opinions and clinical guidelines and works closely with other professional organisations and healthcare agencies. It is also involved in postgraduate medical training and the continuous professional development of consultants. For more information, please visit www.rcog.org.uk
  8. The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) is an independent charity. Its mission is to improve the health of mothers, babies and children by carrying out confidential enquiries and other related work on a UK-wide basis and widely disseminating the results. For more information, please visit www.cmace.org.uk
  9. The NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) is a special health authority responsible for handling negligence claims made against NHS organisations in England. In addition to dealing with claims, the NHSLA has an active risk management programme to help raise standards of care in the NHS. The Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts (CNST) is a risk pooling scheme administered by the NHSLA, which handles all clinical negligence claims made against NHS organisations where the incident took place on or after 1 April 1995. Maternity claims account for around 50 per cent of the value of all CNST claims. The costs of CNST are met by contributions from NHS organisations. The CNST maternity standards apply to NHS organisations providing labour ward services and are used by the NHSLA to assess the management of risks. NHS organisations achieving the standards receive a discount from the maternity element of their CNST contribution. For more information, please visit www.nhsla.com 
  10. The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) is an arm’s length body of the Department of Health. It encompasses three divisions: the National Research Ethics Service, the National Reporting and Learning Service, and the National Clinical Assessment Service. Each has its own sphere of expertise to improve patient outcomes. The NPSA’s vision is to lead and contribute to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing health care individuals and organisations. For more information, please visit www.npsa.nhs.uk