More choice in childbirth promised, despite cuts in maternity services

Women in England will be offered a choice of where they give birth from the end of 2009, ministers have announced.

The new maternity strategy, Maternity Matters, promises to allow expectant mothers to decide between hospital, home, or a midwifery-led birthing unit.

Trusts should also provide a named midwife to support each woman throughout her pregnancy.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) backed the plan but warned that 3,000 more midwives would need to be trained over the next five years in order to fulfil the government’s promises.

Dame Karlene Davis, general secretary of the RCM, said the number of NHS midwives had fallen at the last count, trust deficits meant newly qualified midwives were not being employed, and antenatal and postnatal classes were being cut.

She said: ‘It's our belief that every woman has the right to a caring and safe birth in a place of her choice. This goal is merely pie in the sky as long as the service to women and their families depends on too few midwives.’

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt said it would be up to local NHS managers to ensure the targets were met.

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