UCL News


Progress on maternity services ‘requires improvement’, finds panel led by UCL academic

6 July 2021

An expert panel, Chaired by UCL’s Professor Dame Jane Dacre, has concluded the UK Government’s overall progress to achieve four key commitments in maternity services ‘requires improvement’.

Jane Dacre

Set up by the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, the independent panel has piloted a new evaluation system, giving Care Quality Commission-style ratings on the government’s performance in meeting policy commitments on maternity services in England.

The objective evaluation, designed to enhance the select Committee’s core task of holding the government and ministers to account. Alongside the overall rating, the panel concluded progress on three of the government’s commitments on maternity services ‘require improvement’, while a fourth commitment was rated as ‘inadequate’.

Further the panel concluded, none of the Government’s commitments can be achieved without ensuring that maternity services have the right number of staff, in the right place, at the right time and with the right skills.

Dame Jane, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel, and Professor of Medical Education at UCL, said:

“This is the first evaluation of its kind, commissioned by the Health and Social Care Committee and carried out independently by a panel of experts. Using a CQC-style scoring system, we have rated the Government’s overall progress on its maternity services’ targets as ‘requires improvement’.  

“Our Expert Panel report covers in greater detail how far the Government’s maternity commitments have been achieved in key areas. Three commitments have been rated as ‘requires improvement’ – maternity safety, continuity of carer, and safe staffing – while a rating of ‘inadequate’ has been given to the commitment to provide all women with a personalised care and support plan.

“We’ve also found persistent health inequalities experienced by women and babies from disadvantaged groups, with poorer outcomes across all of the commitments we considered. 

“However, underpinning all this are workforce issues. Maternity services must have the right number of staff, in the right place, at the right time and with the right skills – without that progress will stall.”

The panel’s first service evaluation has been published today, as part of a wide-ranging report by the Health and Social Care Committee on maternity safety in England; The Committee’s report also finds that improvements in maternity services have been too slow, and publishes evidence of a ‘defensive culture’, ‘dysfunctional teams’ and ‘safety lessons not learned’.

Health and Social Care Committee Chair Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt said: “Although the majority of NHS births are totally safe, failings in maternity services can have a devastating outcome for the families involved. Despite a number of high-profile incidents, improvements in maternity safety are still not happening quickly enough. Although the NHS deserves credit for reducing baby deaths and stillbirths significantly, around 1,000 more babies would live every year if our maternity services were as safe as Sweden. 

“Our biggest concerns were around staffing and culture: staffing levels have now started to improve but we found a persisting ‘culture of blame’ when things go wrong which not only prevents people admitting that mistakes were made, but crucially, prevents anyone learning from them.

“Our independent expert panel gave an overall verdict of ‘requires improvement’ which sends a strong message that the Government and the NHS need to redouble their efforts ahead of the Ockenden report into Shrewsbury and Telford and the Kirkup report into East Kent. Nothing less is owed to the families for whom a birth was not the joyous occasion they had the right to expect.”

Set up in August 2020, the expert panel, which includes policy specialists, clinical experts and patients, is tasked with collating and evaluating evidence to support parliament in holding the UK Government to account against its pledges on health and social care.

The panel’s independent and evidence-based reports will rate progress against each chosen target, using the scale used by the Care Quality Commission - Outstanding/Good/Requires Improvement/Inadequate. It will also make an overall rating of the government's progress towards its commitments in the chosen policy area.  



Media contact 

Henry Killworth

Tel: + 44 (0) 7881 833274

E: h.killworth [at] ucl.ac.uk