HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc453-4
8. Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

What research he has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the feasibility of midwifery—led maternity units. [85004]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The NHS research and development programme is funding two relevant studies, "Re-designing postnatal care: a randomised controlled trial of protocol based midwifery-led care", and the "Extension of an established clinical data set to address the effect of structural variables on the process and outcomes of United Kingdom maternity units". In addition, evaluation of the midwifery-led unit at the Royal Bournemouth hospital has been funded by Dorset health authority and evaluation of the Edgware birth centre has been commissioned by Barnet health authority.

Mr. King

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he would wish to join me in congratulating Warwickshire health authority on the positive work that it is undertaking to re-evaluate the way in which maternity services are delivered throughout the county. I hope that my hon. Friend will also join me in supporting the authority's continued research into bringing about a pilot midwifery-led unit at the Hospital of St. Cross in Rugby.

Mr. Hutton

I certainly pay tribute to my hon. Friend on his campaign to promote and defend maternity services in his constituency. He may be aware that Warwickshire health authority has been carrying out a survey of women's views of maternity services throughout the county. As a result, the authority will be reconsidering the future configuration of maternity services in Rugby taking into account the views of local women and health professionals.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Midwives do a wonderful job, in which we all want to encourage and support them, but does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is a need for a consultant presence to deal with problem cases? Does he share the concerns of the confidential inquiry into stillbirths and deaths in infancy about the lack of consultant input in such cases? Will he confirm that by 2001, each year, 500 specialists in obstetrics and gynaecology will be chasing only 50 consultant posts, and that as a result, many of them will leave the national health service? Is it not a scandal that those expensively trained, badly needed doctors are being thrown on the scrap heap because the Government will not fund the necessary NHS consultant posts?

Mr. Hutton

I can accept very little of that. The hon. Gentleman usually has something sensible to say, but I am afraid that today he did not. Research evaluating midwifery-led maternity services has been generally positive about their contribution. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently asked a multi-disciplinary working party, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and others, to develop criteria for ensuring that small maternity units, including those that provide a midwife-led service, can avoid closure while maintaining patient safety. I reject fundamentally the hon. Gentleman's attack on midwifery. The Government are committed to developing good-quality midwifery and maternity services, and that is what we will do.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind how important midwife-led services are in rural areas, where they add greatly to choice? Will he note the importance of general practitioners, who can make or break such units? Will he encourage the health service to talk to GPs to ensure that they are aware of their benefits?

Mr. Hutton

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government remain fully committed to the principles of woman-centred maternity services that offer women greater choice, continuity of care and control. We will bear my hon. Friend's comments in mind.

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