New initiative launched to improve safety of maternity services in England

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A programme to improve the safety of maternity services in England was launched today by The King’s Fund in partnership with other national organisations who have interest and expertise in supporting maternity professionals. The new Safer Births initiative seeks to help the NHS take a consistent approach to implementing the multiple recommendations of recent reports and government guidance in one co-ordinated programme of professional support.

Starting in 2009, the Safer Births initiative will work with the health service to help midwives, obstetricians and managers think about current practice, the challenges in improving safety and their local priorities. The programme will also look to work intensively with a number of individual maternity units as part of an improvement network which will enable organisations to share learning and connect maternity professionals involved in improvement work.

Joining The King’s Fund in the Safer Births initiative are national partners the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the National Patient Safety Agency, the Healthcare Commission and the NHS Litigation Authority.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund said:

'Prospective mothers and their families want to have confidence that maternity care is safe and, in general, services in this country are good. But we also know more could be done to ensure safe care at birth is a constant throughout the NHS.

'This programme aims to bring together the research on how to make births safer and to support midwives, obstetricians and managers in achieving this.'

Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists added:

'There is strong impetus to improve our maternity services and it is important for guidelines and standards to underpin good practice. The King's Fund maternity inquiry made good recommendations and NHS managers, commissioners and healthcare professionals must now work together to implement change so that women and their babies receive the best service available to them. Safer Births will reach out and support maternity professionals to make sense of all the recommendations and identify what they need to do to improve safety in their units.'

Welcoming the initiative, Frances Day-Stirk, Director of Learning, Research and Practice Development at the Royal College of Midwives, said: 'Safety – the physical and emotional wellbeing of women and babies - should be at the heart of maternity care, so this is very welcome. It is important that this involves the whole team of health professionals, because it is only through team work and co-operation among all the people delivering maternity care that progress will be made.'

Sara Johnson, Head of Child Health and Maternal Care at the National Patient Safety Agency, said: 'We are aware of some good examples of patient safety improvements amongst maternity services throughout the country. This important new initiative will help to improve the sharing of good practice and help ensure that patient safety is embedded into all maternity services.'

Find out more about our Safer Births programme.

Notes to editors

  1. The Safer Births initiative is being launched at a Parliamentary reception on 29 October, hosted by the Speaker.
  2. The King’s Fund 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 February 2008 The King’s Fund published Safe Births: Everybody's business the findings of an independent inquiry established by the Fund to look into safety in maternity services. It made a number of practical recommendations all with the underlying  message that ‘safe teams’ are the key to improving safety. For further information or interviews, please contact The King’s Fund press and public affairs office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  3. 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 their website or email Gerald Chan    
  4. 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 website.
  5. The Healthcare Commission is the health watchdog in England. It keeps check on health services to ensure that they are meeting standards in a range of areas. The Commission also promotes improvements in the quality of health care and public health in England through independent, authoritative, patient-centred assessments of those who provide services. Responsibility for inspection and investigation of NHS bodies and the independent sector in Wales rests with Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW).
    The Healthcare Commission has certain statutory functions in Wales which include producing an annual report on the state of health care in England and Wales, national improvement reviews in England and Wales, and working with HIW to ensure that relevant cross-border issues are managed effectively. In July 2008, the Healthcare Commission published a national report on maternity services, containing conclusions and recommendations from a major review involving 150 NHS trusts in England. As part of the review, the Commission published scores for all relevant NHS trusts in January 2008. A total of 26 percent were “best performing”, 32 percent were “better performing”, 22 percent were “fair performing” and 21 percent were “least-well performing”. 
  6. The National Patient Safety Agency encompasses the National Research Ethics Service, National Reporting and Learning Service and the National Clinical Assessment Service. Their vision is to lead and contribute to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing healthcare individuals and organisations. Each division works within its sphere of expertise to improve patient outcomes. Media enquiries to Amelia Lyons in the NPSA Communications Department on 020 7927 9580 or email
  7. 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% 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.