The shine was taken off yesterday's Government announcement of an additional £25 million of maternity funding by today's statement from the RCM outlining maternity cuts and unit closures.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter announced on Sunday that an extra £25 million to be spent on maternity wards to build ensuite facilities, rooms for partners to stay overnight and birthing pools. He added a proviso saying the money would only be released to NHS trusts if "there is evidence that women have been asked about the changes they want in their local areas".

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) responded by saying that the new funding would only be effective if it was translated into improved care.

"Any additional money is welcome, [however] £25 million is a relatively small sum compared to the annual budget for services of around £2.5 billion," she said.

"Putting maternity care in the mandate for the NHS will I hope help to ensure maternity services are a priority for the NHS. This development comes on top of government pledges made earlier in the year, including a commitment to ensure that women will have one named midwife who will oversee their care during pregnancy and, after they have had their baby.

"The question is how do the Government's pronouncements turn into improved care for women and babies? Essentially, how will the Government ensure this happens?".

No sooner had Warwick made this statement she was called upon to comment on the RCM's announcement that many maternity units are facing the axe. The RCM report that so far, this year birth centres in Darley Dale and Corbar, in the East Midlands, have closed [full story here], and births no longer take place at units in Canterbury or Dover. The midwife-led unit in Harwich, in Essex, also frequently closes because of a shortage of midwives.

"The units that have closed are the tip of the iceberg," said Cathy Warwick. "A tenth of the heads of midwifery who responded to our recent survey told us that they have a midwife-led unit in their area that is in danger of closure. More than half of HOMs reported having to close units temporarily, as happens regularly in Harwich, after staff become overwhelmed by the number of women going into labour. This happens in each of these units an average of seven separate times a year."

Reviews of services across several NHS trusts taking places in the East Midlands and parts of London also place big question marks over many maternity units.

Cathy Warwick added: "NHS maternity services, especially in England, are on a knife-edge. We have carried shortages for years, but with the number of births going up and up and up. I really believe we are at the limit of what maternity services can safely deliver."

The news comes on the eve of the RCM's annual conference, which is being held in Brighton this year. For full coverage of the event follow @journalfhc on Twitter.

Posted 12/11/2012 by penny.hosie@pavpub.com