A charity dedicated to improving maternity care across the UK has today highlighted a continued lack of training across the NHS, saying it is causing avoidable deaths and thousands of injuries to babies and mothers in the UK.
Shockingly, the ‘Mind The Gap’ report, compiled by Baby Lifeline, has identified that fewer than eight per cent of NHS Trusts have been providing all training elements of the nationally recommended Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle’ tool, specifically aimed at reducing the number of stillbirths.
This is despite research suggesting three in four baby deaths and injuries are preventable, and an NHS spokesman admitting stillbirths have fallen by 20 per cent across the maternity services which have been following the latest national guidance.
As long term supporters of Baby Lifeline, our team at Hudgell Solicitors supported the charity two years ago when it launched a campaign – supported by many leading medical experts – calling for standardised maternity training across all NHS Trusts.
Yet the charity’s latest investigation has found there is still a wide variation in the amount spent across hospital trusts with regards to maternity training, with individual spending at trusts ranging from £1,051 to £372,878.
There is still no standardisation of the way maternity training is prioritised, provided, funded, assessed, or attended across the UK.
Although the report says the provision of maternity training has increased since the last report in 2016, clearly far too little progress has been made, and costly mistakes continue to happen.
Such mistakes are of course financially costly, with the Baby Lifeline report stating that the value of maternity claims received by the NHS in 2017/18 as £2.1billion.
The human cost will always be much greater, however. The health service continues to let mothers, babies and their families down. These are avoidable mistakes which cost lives and cause lifelong harm.
Baby Lifeline has quite rightly pointed to the 2018 Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audit and Confidential Enquiries report which said nearly 80 per cent of perinatal deaths could have been avoided with different care, almost all of which involved factors relating to recognition of the problem, acting appropriately, or effective communication.
Dr Bill Kirkup CBE Former Chair, Morecambe Bay Investigation, has described the ‘poor and patchy’ training across the UK as ‘disappointing’ in the report.
Personally, I’d say it is much worse, a disgrace even, given the horrifying statistics relating to deaths and injuries to babies and mothers.
Fully funded, specific training needed nationally to make a positive impact
Baby Lifeline has now made a number of recommendations to improve performance, which I believe are realistic and achievable, and so fully endorse.
Having worked as a hospital manager myself before beginning my legal career, I know that training, clear procedures, effective communication and a commitment to learning and improvement are key to better care. Without each of these, issues will not be properly resolved.
The charity is calling for regular funding for maternity professionals to adequately provide and attend high-quality training in areas shown to reduce mortality and morbidity, and for maternity-specific national training guidance on what should be considered mandatory for every trust, which professionals should attend.
This guidance, it says, should be based on evidence-based care and/or best practice, and failures in care highlighted nationally and locally.
Importantly, the charity is recommending that all professionals should also be audited for attendance on mandated training courses, as currently many trusts do not record such information, and competency assessments carried out.
It adds that if professionals cannot demonstrate competency, then a peer-support meeting should be carried out and an individual development plan put in place, with clinical duties for individuals with low attendance rates and poor competency assessments then considered. These are all basic methods of performance training, assessment and management which are routinely engaged in other aspects of working life.
It is inexcusable for them not to be uniformly undertaken as part of a role which makes the difference between a newborn baby being delivered healthy and a life needlessly lost.
Judy Ledger, founder of Baby Lifeline, says: “Mothers and babies are still needlessly dying, or suffering serious injury, because of a lack of relevant training in the NHS.”
That is a human tragedy striking at the very heart of our communities and one that needs to be confined to history, not repeated over and again with sickening regularity.
Baby Lifeline’s call for changes across the health service must be heard and acted upon now if the Government is to meet its target of halving the number of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries in babies by 2030.