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Structural weaknesses in maternity funding exposed by COVID, say maternity Royal Colleges

News 9 September 2021

More than a decade of under-investment and an over-reliance on committed staff has been brutally exposed by the pandemic, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

Speaking at the Baby Lifeline Maternity Safety Conference today, RCOG President Dr Edward Morris and RCM CEO Gill Walton called for sustained investment in maternity services and staff, and for positive cultural change that puts safety at the centre of care, to be supported and embedded.

The two leaders focussed on the unsustainable pressures on staff, intensified by the pandemic, and the chasm it revealed between what staffing and funding is needed, and what is actually available. Both also highlighted the role of the RCM and RCOG in the pandemic, pulling together to provide national direction around maternity issues, offering advice, guidance and support for women and staff.

Dr Edward Morris said: "We are pleased that in recent months, the UK Government has committed a large amount of funding to maternity services – both for a new workplace planning tool and a project to reduce brain injuries in childbirth. We feel confident that this investment will go a huge way to improving the quality of care provided to pregnant women and their babies, however we also recognise that our maternity services are running on empty and something urgently needs to change.

"We need a system that is much more cohesive, enabling current and future staff to feel supported and empowered to speak out if they are struggling or are witnessing organisational cultures or behaviours that are concerning or unsafe. It’s clear maternity units are bowing under the pressure of reduced staffing levels, inadequate health facilities and the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which will test their ability to provide the best care possible to pregnant women and their families. We are calling for sustained investment in maternity services and staff, as women deserve to give birth in a safe and supported environment."

Gill Walton said: "There is investment in services and in training coming and this is welcome, but much more is needed to make up for decades of under-investment. The cracks in maternity are now clearly visible. We have seen real, terrible, and tragic events emerge in our maternity services over recent years. These have shown the human cost of getting it wrong for women, their families and for staff, and the financial cost to trusts in pay-outs, which investment could have prevented. It seems that only when these events happen do senior managers and Governments take notice and act. These things do not come out of the blue. The circumstances and conditions that led to them were already there and were not tackled.

"We must have cultures that foster, champion and live and breathe safety. It must become the DNA that runs through everything we do, every tiny action, every tiny decision. This needs investment, it needs commitment, and it needs doing now."

There is also a call for stronger maternity leadership shared across the two professions. Those leaders must also at the highest possible level within trusts and boards, so their voices are heard for women and for staff. We must retain the staff we have and ensure a pipeline of future leaders say the Colleges.

ENDS

To contact the RCOG press office call +44 (0) 7986 183167 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk. To contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email media@rcm.org.uk. 

Notes to editor

For information on the Baby Lifeline Maternity Safety Conference visit Conference 2021 | Baby Lifeline.

For information on some of the major safety initiatives that the RCM and RCOG are working on see:

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is a medical charity that champions the provision of high-quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance, and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences, and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website.