By Beverley Turner
In March 2015, the relatively unknown Baroness Julia Cumberlege was quietly sent off on a mission that had the potential to change millions of women’s lives. Without any press fanfare she began the National Maternity Review – a year-long study to assess the state of maternity care in the UK. There was no expert she didn’t interview; no hospital department she didn’t assess, no failing she didn’t spot and no success stories that went ignored.
The result is a document, which was published in February, that should pave the way for an overhaul of the way pregnant women and their partners are cared for. At its heart: greater levels of safety for mums and babies, plus more choice for women, allowing them greater control over their births. And the long overdue demand for continuity of care.
Ironically, this 2016 conclusion actually takes us back to the era of Call The Midwife, namely that every woman should have a midwife she knows – part of a small team of four to six, who work in the community. They get to know the expectant family and provide consistent familiarity throughout pregnancy, birth and post-natally.
Every study designed to work out how to increase the number of happy births across the globe concludes that the most effective resource you can give to a pregnant woman is a midwife she knows and trusts. This one factor reduces medical interventions and rates of mortality for mum and baby; it decreases numbers of post-natal depression and increases successful breastfeeding. So convincing is the evidence that if it were a pill, it would be unethical not to prescribe it. I find that the major complaint from the couples of my Blooming Bunch course is that every time they go to the hospital they receive conflicting advice from a different midwife. And the anxiety of an NHS shift change during labour can send even the most straight-forward birth completely off-course. But as it’s just women looking after women, it isn’t deemed terribly important by men in suits handing out NHS trust money. The National Maternity Review finally hits home that we can’t keep ignoring this. Women – and their partners – deserve better.
“It’s not good enough to be treated by a stranger on the most frightening and important day of your life.”
At the moment one-to-one care is only available in most areas by paying roughly £4,000 for an Independent (private) Midwife. You can also be assigned a ‘team’ of midwives if you opt for an NHS home birth. But if the department is busy that night, you won’t get your home birth after all. The report aims to stop that happening by allowing women to ‘spend’ their ‘Personal Maternity Care Budget’ as they see fit by hiring an accredited private midwifery practice in their community. As most women are capable of handling a business/a household budget with their eyes shut these days, I for one believe we are capable of making such decisions wisely.
But, of course, a media backlash soon began with one female journalist writing: “The idea of personalised maternity budgets might sound attractive, but mothers should resist the temptation. Don’t give me choice – I want a fully equipped antenatal ward.”
Sadly, this divides women, where some writers bring their own misunderstood and unresolved traumatic births to the page, extrapolating all sorts of conclusions that may negatively affect many women. A well-respected magazine went one better, publishing an article stating a “push for natural birth,” is a “dangerous flaw in UK maternity review”. Unsurprisingly, the female author of that article refused to come on my LBC radio show to debate her points.