Minister apologises to women affected by birth trauma after UK inquiry

A health minister has apologised to women affected by birth trauma after a parliamentary inquiry that heard “harrowing” testimonies from more than 1,300 women about giving birth found a “postcode lottery” for maternity care.

The birth trauma inquiry, led by the Conservative MP Theo Clarke and Labour MP Rosie Duffield, will call for an overhaul of the UK’s maternity and postnatal care.

The women’s health minister, Maria Caulfield, on Monday acknowledged ministers had got the approach to maternity services wrong for a long time.

“Absolutely,” Caulfield said when asked if there was an apology to be made. “I recognise as women’s health minister that maternity services have not been where we want them to be,” she told Sky News.

The inquiry, which is due to publish its findings on Monday morning, calls for a national plan to improve maternity care. According to the Times, it found “poor care is all frequently tolerated as normal, and women are treated as an inconvenience”. Among its recommendations is the creation of a maternity commissioner reporting to the prime minister.

Clarke, the MP for Stafford, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think what came through very strongly [in the inquiry] was that there does seem to be a postcode lottery for maternity care in this country, and that’s something that I don’t think is acceptable – that depending on where you live, you will literally be offered a different level of care in terms of how you’re given support during childbirth and afterwards.”

She is calling on the government to publish a national maternity improvement strategy, led by a new maternity commissioner who would report directly to the prime minister, but added it had been working “very constructively” with the inquiry.

Describing her own experience of childbirth, Clarke said: “I remember pressing the emergency button after I’d come out of surgery and a lady came in and said she couldn’t help me, said it wasn’t her baby, wasn’t her problem and walked out and left me there. So we need to make sure there are safe levels of staffing.”

Caulfield insisted the government was already doing much of the work recommended.

She told Times Radio: “It isn’t just about the birth and afterwards, that’s probably where we’ve been going wrong for such a long time, this has been happening to women for decades. This is about looking after women before they go into birth.”

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She cited the introduction of perinatal pelvic health services, maternal mental health services and care for severe perineal tearing as changes that had already been made in England.

She added: “We absolutely recognise what’s in the report. We are on track with rolling out some of these services to prevent this from happening in the first place, but when it does, better look after women.”

The NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said the experiences of more than 1,300 women who have evidence to the inquiry were “simply not good enough”.

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