hospbedThree reports have highlighted major problems within NHS hospitals, maternity units and GP surgeries which suggest that "public confidence in the Health Service is at a record low".

Across the reports there are claims that a quarter of new mothers were abandoned by their midwives during labour, mistakes deemed so serious they should never happen are being made in hospitals five times a week and thousands of patients have all but given up trying to secure appointments with their family doctor.

Following the Francis report into failures at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, further failures have been identified across the country and 12 trusts were put into special measures after inspectors found staffing shortages and an obsession with targets were putting patients at risk.

The investigation into maternity units by the Care Quality Commission found that midwives due to help women give birth at home were failing to turn up, while others were unable to read machines that monitor babies’ heart beats.

Responding to that report, Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives said: "It is sad to see that in three years the NHS has not improved in terms of women seeing the same midwife during their care, which often means women have to repeat their histories over and over."

She added that the union’s latest estimate was that the NHS in England was short of 4,800 midwives.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said yesterday that NHS staff often confided in him about poor care.

Speaking at the General Medical Council conference in Manchester yesterday [12 Dec], he said: "People have come forward and said, it’s not as bad as Mid Staffs where I work, but even though I’m very glad to work at a fine hospital, I see things like that happening on my shifts and we need to sort it out.

"There has been a hunger to really get to grips with these problems and sort them out and that is something we can be extremely proud of."