Women To Get Childbirth Choices

Women in England are to be given a choice of where they give birth, under plans due to be unveiled by ministers. From 2009, expectant mothers will be able to choose whether they go to hospital, a midwife-led unit or stay at home to have their children delivered.

Women will also be guaranteed a named midwife to care for them throughout their pregnancy. Midwives said more cash is needed to fulfil the promises, which were first outlined in Labour’s manifesto in 2005.

There are currently 19,000 midwives working in the NHS, but the Royal College of Midwives says another 3,000 are needed over the next five years to fulfil the promises. Midwives complain that they often find themselves caring for more than one woman in labour as hospitals have cut back on services.

A recent survey by the RCM found that NHS trusts have lost staff, introduced recruitment freezes and cut training budgets. One trainee in the north of England told the BBC: “Morale among students is really low. We don’t know if we will get jobs and we can see those who have are really stressed and overworked.”

But the government has dismissed maternity care has got worse. The Department of Health said the midwife workforce had increased by a tenth since 1997 and there were 44% more students in training.

The government is looking to introduce greater choice in maternity care as part of its drive to have more “personalised health services”. Patients are already given a choice of hospital for non-emergency surgery.

Only 2% of the 600,000 births a year take place at home and research by the RCM has shown that only one in five women is given the option of birth in the first place.

Ministers are also looking to make mothers-to-be more comfortable by giving them a named midwife as a point of contact through pregnancy. And they will be invited to meet the team of midwives and doctors ahead of the birth so a “familiar face” is there during the delivery.

But a RCM spokesman said: “If these goals are going to be achieved, we are going to need more money and midwives. In recent years the proportion of the NHS budget spent on maternity has been declining and that needs to be reversed.”