Hospitals in the West Midlands are now “leading the way” in improving maternity services after a shocking report revealed the deaths of 21 babies during labour or birth may have been caused by “substandard” levels of maternity care, Ministers have claimed.
Health Minister Anne Milton offered reassurance after an independent report commissioned by the regional health authority examined 25 unexplained baby deaths in a 12 month period, and found that inadequate hospital maternity care could have been a factor in 21 of them.
But Birmingham MP and former Health Minister Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) said she was concerned that health services were failing to learn lessons from their mistakes.
She urged Ministers to improve maternity services as she led a 90-minute House of Commons debate focusing on the report, which was published by the West Midlands Perinatal Institute.
Ms Stuart said she did not believe services in the West Midlands were worse than elsewhere - and said the NHS simply didn’t know whether maternity services were performing well or not.
She said: “The West Midlands was the first area that took a really good and honest look at what is happening.”
But she warned: “Within the NHS, we still have not come up with systems that allow us to learn from mistakes they something has gone wrong.”
NHS staff tended to avoid admitting mistakes had been made in order to protect themselves, she said.
“There is still a mentality when something goes wrong of closing in on ourselves.”
Ms Stuart said infant mortality rates were much higher in poorer neighbourhoods and said they needed more midwives.
Ms Milton said: “The West Midlands in many ways is now leading the way in this field.”
But referring to the report, she also said: “This is totally unacceptable and I must admit it comes as a shock to me that we are still not good at using serious untoward incidents, and indeed the death of babies, death of infants, to improve practice
“We have a lot to do to ensure we learn from those tragic incident. When I talk to women who have lost babies, that’s what they want more than anything They want this not to happen again.
“The NHS in the West Midlands now has clear plans to improve standards.”
Solihull MP Lorely Burt (Lib Dem) also spoke in the debate to criticise the closure of maternity services at Solihull Hospital.