NHS reforms will put babies in danger, says midwives’ leader

The crisis facing maternity services in London is in danger of deepening under radical reforms announced today, Britain’s leading midwife warned.

Cathy Warwick said the plans, which include GPs being given responsibility to commission maternity services, could put new mothers and babies “at risk”.

The general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives told the Standard the changes could also lead to a postcode lottery in London, with some areas better equipped to deal with the growing number of births than others.

She said: “The biggest fear is that this major change, which has not been well described, could lead to different standards of maternity in different parts of London.

“They (GPs) will have a lot on their plates and I am worried they won’t be able to focus on maternity as much as they need to. It feels like a major risk.”

London already has a bigger shortage of midwives than other parts of the country, she added. An extra 700 midwives have recently been recruited in the capital to help maternity units struggling to cope with the surge in “increasingly complicated” pregnancies.

NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the country is short of 4,500 midwives. A high proportion of this number are needed in the capital.

Separately, a senior MP warned that flagship new “polyclinics” in London could be mothballed under the NHS shake-up, which will give GPs control over an £80 billion budget for commissioning services.

Doctors, unions and MPs fear that the reshaping of the NHS could drain money from frontline services.

John Pugh, chairman of the Lib-Dem parliamentary health committee, said: “There is a serious risk that we use scarce resources on redundancy payments and mothballing clinics.

“There is no requirement for GPs to make use of them. It could end up with these clinics being white elephants.”

NHS London chiefs insist that they had received “assurances” from GPs that they are signed up to the poly-system of healthcare. There are currently 30 such networks in the capital.

But health bosses privately admit that some hospitals, polyclinics and GP surgeries could struggle to retain the demand for services to keep them all running as the NHS opens up to more providers, including private companies.

An NHS London spokesman said: “The future of poly-systems in whatever form will be led by GPs.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who has been accused of rushing the NHS reforms, insisted the changes are needed to meet growing health demands and give people a greater say over their care.

“Our ambition is simple — to deliver care for patients which is the best of anywhere in the world on the NHS,” he said before the laying of the Health and Social Care Bill this afternoon.

The reforms also include NHS patients being able to get free treatment almost anywhere they want, as long as it does not cost the taxpayer more.