State of NHS buildings holding back improvements in maternity care

SoR joins health organisations calling for investment to support sonography workforce

Published: 14 April 2021 Government & NHS

Leading health organisations have called for upgrades to England’s NHS maternity service buildings to improve care for women and conditions for staff in a letter to Health Minister Nadine Dorries today.

Women’s maternity care was significantly impacted during the pandemic, made worse by old, poorly designed buildings, according to the One Voice coalition of health organisations and the Society of Radiographers.

Many women were unable to have their partners with them because the layout of maternity facilities prevented social distancing, and would have put women, their partners and other service users at risk of catching the virus.  We are calling for better design and use of space, such as having single rooms and dedicated areas for maternity clinics and scans.

SoR Director of Industrial Strategy and Member Relations Dean Rogers said sonographers should only be expected to work in safe conditions:  'Now these challenges have been exposed we expect Government to support the necessary investment to provide safe work spaces'.

Gill Walton, Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Chief Executive and Co-chair of One Voice, said: 'Many women suffered significant distress during the pandemic because they could not have partners with them. Something as simple as a well-designed building can make a huge difference to the experiences of women and their families using maternity services.

'Many of the buildings used are old and in need of repair. They are simply not fit for purpose. We must learn the lessons of the past year and ensure maternity services have the right building and conditions in which to deliver the safest and best possible care for women, their families and for staff.'

One Voice call for a wholesale review of NHS estates particularly maternity services and upgrading those that fall short of the standard needed. They also say better planning of maternity facilities in new hospitals is needed, such as ensuring sufficient space and dedicated clinical areas and rooms – including bereavement rooms – are incorporated into the design. 

Dr Edward Morris, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists President and Co-chair of One Voice, said:  'It is also vital that maternity staff are provided with facilities that meet requirements and allow them to work in the most efficient and safest way possible. Many of the NHS buildings aren’t fit for purpose and this can have a huge impact on how well staff are able to do their jobs and also the experience of women using the services – as we’ve seen during the pandemic with the poorly designed rooms often restricting access for birth partners. We would like to see the government’s commitment to maternity services extended to improve and upgrade maternity facilities.'