NHS England has recently published the National Maternity Review, ‘Better Births – improving outcomes of maternity services in England’, its review of maternity services and care provision following an investigation into the deaths of 11 babies and a mother at Furness Hospital over the period from January 2004 to June 2013.

Led by Baroness Julia Cumberlege, the review was commissioned in March 2015 to investigate maternity care standards in English hospitals and to assess how providers can best deliver safer, more personalised care.

Although maternity care has improved over the last decade -  the stillbirth and neonatal mortality rate in England has fallen by over 20% between 2003 and 2013 - maternity services still often fail women and their babies. One in 200 babies in the UK is stillborn and many of these deaths are preventable. In recent years, over a third of all clinical negligence claims against the NHS were related to maternity care.  

The review found that the current system of maternity care does not respond to the needs of women. Although nearly nine in 10 births take place in hospital, only one in four women said this was where they wanted to have their baby. It proposes that women are put at the centre of their own care, enabling them to make their own decisions, with a personal 'birth budget' of at least £3,000 to enable them to decide for themselves the type of care they will receive. 

The review sets out seven key priorities for the future of maternity services, including the need for a more personalised approach to maternity care; better continuity of care; improved referral protocols to respond to problems where they arise; and a better system of mental health care, particularly after birth. There is also a proposal for a national standardised investigation process to ensure mistakes are not repeated. 

Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: "Our current maternity care system has clear shortcomings with far too many pregnancies ending tragically. We urgently need to focus on preventing birth injuries and preventing stillbirths and neonatal deaths, not to mention preventing the loss of young women just at the start of motherhood. Hopefully, the National Maternity Review will highlight these issues and go some way to improving outcomes in this key area of healthcare."