Medical experts have urged that all expectant mothers receive individual care from a midwife.
A report out today from several of the Royal Colleges – including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) – sets out the minimum staffing levels to deliver safe care to women in labour and their babies.
It says that one-to-one care from a midwife is essential once a woman is in established labour.
But a survey in the report, of more than 100 obstetric and midwifery units in England and Wales, found that only 27% had the equivalent of a midwife for every woman in labour.
The Safer Childbirth report recommends that all women requiring general anaesthesia are seen and assessed by an anaesthetist before an elective procedure.
It also calls for a minimum 40-hour presence a week of consultant obstetricians on maternity units.
This figure was increased to 60 hours for larger centres dealing with 5,000 to 6,000 births a year, and for those units above 6,000 a 24-hour presence should be in place by next year.
Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, President of the RCOG, said ‘We hope that the clear guidelines presented in Safer Childbirth will be adopted by those caring for women in labour, in all settings, to ensure quality and continuity of care in UK maternity services.
‘This project has been an important collaboration between the Royal Colleges and we hope that our focus on the multi-disciplinary team approach leads to safer childbirth in our hospitals.’