Health secretary unable to guarantee no further maternity care scandals following birth trauma report | Politics News

The health secretary has been unable to guarantee that there will be no further scandals in maternity care after admitting the NHS is in a “period of transition”.

Victoria Atkins was speaking following the publication of a report by MPs which there was “shockingly poor quality” in maternity services, resulting in care that lacked compassion and a system where “poor care is all too frequently tolerated as normal”.

Speaking to Sky News following the report’s publication, Ms Atkins thanked the women who had been involved in the inquiry and said their stories were “really important”.

“I say that not just as secretary of state for health, I say this as a mum.”

The health secretary, who was appointed to her role last November, said her own experience of having her baby on the NHS included “moments of joy” but also “some moments that are very dark and frightening”.

She said she completely understood why women and their families were “worried about the report and the findings in it”.

However, asked whether should could guarantee that there would be no further scandals in maternity care, Ms Atkins replied: “I’m being completely frank here, we are in a period of transition … we are already beginning to see changes but of course I accept there is much more work to do.”

Analysis: Why weren’t alarm bells going off?

Victoria Atkins was not health secretary when Theo Clark MP first spoke of her birth trauma in parliament.

But she is keen to stress she is listening to the voices of women who have shared their stories with the national inquiry.

“I say that not just as Secretary of State for Health, I say this as a mum.”

In her own words, her childbirth experience included, “some moments that are very dark and frightening”.

She’s read the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into birth trauma, and insists things are changing.

“I don’t pretend we’re there yet, but we are genuinely turning a corner,” she told me.

Every year eye-watering sums are spent on maternity clinical negligence, including £1.1bn last year alone.

So why weren’t alarm bells going off? Victoria Atkins says they were, and points to recent reviews of maternity scandals which lead to the three-year plan for maternity.

But when I asked whether she can guarantee we won’t see another maternity scandal, the Health Secretary admitted, “I’m being completely frank here, we are in a period of transition … we are already beginning to see changes but of course I accept there is much more work to do.”

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This morning health minister Maria Caulfield apologised to mothers who had been affected, saying: “I recognise that maternity services have not been where we want them to be, but there is lots of work happening in this space.

“This has been a problem for a long time, and it is why maternity is a priority area in the women’s health strategy.”

But pressed on whether she would apologise to the women who have suffered, Ms Atkins said the problems highlighted in the report were “longstanding”.

“What I want to do is now focus on not just the longer term future, but today, because I want mums to be…I want them to have confidence that we are seeing improvement in these services,” she added.

“I don’t pretend we’re there yet, but we are genuinely turning a corner.”

Led by Conservative MP Theo Clarke and Labour MP Rosie Duffield, the Birth Trauma Inquiry considered evidence given by more than 1,300 women and has called for a national plan to improve maternity care.

It found that poor quality postnatal care was an “almost-universal theme”.

“Women shared stories of being left in blood-stained sheets or of ringing the bell for help but no one coming,” the report said.

The inquiry made 12 recommendations, including that the government implement a maternity commissioner who would report directly to the prime minister.

Some £1.1bn – more than a third of the NHS’ total maternity and neonatal budget – was spent on cash payments relating to clinical negligence in 2022/23, a Department of Health and Social Care report showed.

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Speaking to Sky News today, Ms Duffield, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on birth trauma, said the UK “absolutely” needed to overhaul maternity care following the inquiry.

“We really need somebody overseeing the fact that at the moment it is a postcode lottery,” she said.

“We need someone to make sure – almost like an Ofsted inspector but perhaps less scary – to just oversee the fact that we’re joined up in our approach to maternity services and care.

“There’s that, and then we absolutely have to end the problem of the maternal health of black women and south Asian women, who are five times more likely to die in childbirth.”

Ms Atkins said she was “determined to focus relentlessly on improving the care for women across England” and that she had “prioritised” women’s health, maternity services and birth trauma since taking up her Cabinet post.

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Asked why “alarm bells” had not been ringing during the Conservatives’ 14 years in power, Ms Atkins said there had been awareness of issues, citing reviews into maternity care at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

“We are in an interesting position because, for the first time in the NHS’s history, you have not just a secretary of state for health who is a mum, but also the chief executive of NHS England is a mum as well – Amanda Pritchard,” she said.

“We are working together to try to address some of these issues that we know have arisen in recent years.”


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