Pregnant women will be allocated one dedicated midwife who will oversee their care before, during and after labour, under new Government plans announced today.
In a bid to create more “consistency of care” both antenatally and postnatally, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley claimed the move would help to ensure no women endure labour without a midwife and that there is greater, more personal support in the event of miscarriage or postnatal depression.
It comes after a Royal College of Midwives (RCM) survey this week revealed more than a quarter of women did not have a midwife with them in labour or when needed.
And more than a fifth said they did not know their midwife ‘very well’ or ‘not at all well’ during the pregnancy.
A spokesman for the Department of Health today said that, while shift patterns and length of labour means it is impossible to allocate a woman just one midwife during birth, models such as “team based care where a team of midwives care for a caseload of women” would be prioritised.
He added: “We can commit to every woman having a lead midwife who is responsible for her care antenatally and postnatally and who is also responsible for ensuing high quality handovers of care.”
Meanwhile an extra 4,200 health visitors recruited by the Government will receive “enhanced training” to spot the early signs of postnatal depression. There will be a bid to ensure more “joined-up” support between health visitors and midwives for new parents.
Parents in need will be referred to counselling.
A further step is to ask patients who have suffered miscarriage or cot death to report on their care so that the NHS can take steps to improve its support services.
Lansley said: “No woman should have to cope with postnatal depression without help and support. The changes we are putting in place today will mean that the NHS is providing even more support to women who have this serious condition.
“We have listened to the concerns of women about their experiences of maternity care, which is why we are putting in place a 'named midwife' policy to ensure consistency of care. Not least, we will focus on the quality of care given to mothers–to-be and measure women’s experience of their maternity care for the first time.”
The Government has said it will work closely with the Royal College of Midwives and other groups including Mumsnet and Netmums to support implementation of the plans.
Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts said: "Sadly there are many experiences shared on Mumsnet of women not getting the best care when they need it, whether postnatally in hospital, after a miscarriage or still birth, or when battling post-natal depression.
“Today's announcement of renewed focus from the government is a positive step but a sustained effort is needed to ensure Mums benefit from these changes locally.”
Anne Longfield, chief executive of national family charity 4Children, said she welcomed the announcement: “Our 2011 report Suffering in Silence highlighted the stories of tens of thousands of mothers with depression who felt desperate, overlooked and fearful with terrible and long lasting consequences for them, their children and families. When help was offered it often came in the form of antidepressants despite the fact that counselling was the primary choice of many.
“The policies announced today respond to these concerns making post natal depression a priority for health professionals and ensuring that counselling and talking therapies are available to support.”
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, termed the pledges "very good news" for women and midwives.
"These are positive plans from the Government targeting areas of maternity care that are under prioritised and under-resourced," she said. "The impact of a miscarriage or a stillbirth can be devastating for the woman and her family and, postnatal depression can be a crippling and sometimes fatal illness. Early detection and treatment is crucial.
"It is also excellent to see an intention to ensure that long standing NHS commitments, such as one to one care in labour and choice about where and how women give birth, become a reality for all women."
According to the RCM, 5,000 more midwives would be needed to deliver the care proposed.