NHS maternity and neonatal delivery plan focuses on safety and workforce

Clear goals for NHS trusts to ensure staff “feel valued at all stages of their career”

Published: 20 April 2023 Sonography

NHS England has published its Three-Year Delivery Plan for Maternity and Neonatal Services, which aims to “make care safer, more personalised, and more equitable”.

The delivery plan has four main themes:

  • Listening to and working with women and families with compassion. 
  • Growing, retaining and supporting our workforce.
  • Developing and sustaining a culture of safety, learning and support.
  • Standards and structures that underpin safer, more personalised and equitable care.

The plan sets out the responsibilities for NHS trusts, integrated care boards and NHS England, showing clear accountability for specific outcomes.

Key points relevant to the sonographer and/or radiographer workforce include having enough staff to provide safe care without adversely affecting staff wellbeing, providing adequate opportunities for “training, supervision and support”, developing a “positive culture and leadership” and “working with service users to improve care”. 

More support for staff

The need to grow the workforce, value and retain staff and invest in skills is a theme throughout the plan. It is acknowledged that “staff feel valued when they are supported”. The ambition to ensure staff “feel valued at all stages of their career” and have “equality of opportunity” is important, with NHS trusts having a responsibility to create anti-racist workplaces.

The Society of Radiographers had input into the document via the Independent Maternity Working Group, which was set up after the Ockenden report into maternity services at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. 

Gill Harrison, professional officer for ultrasound at the SoR, said: “Sonographers and radiographers play a vital role in the care of women and pregnant people and their babies across the whole maternity and neonatal period, so it was important to get their AHP voice heard within the single delivery plan.” 

She added: “While there are ambitious goals within the single delivery plan, there must be the appropriate financial, time allocation and leadership support to enable effective implementation.”

Annual data on sonographer workforce

Sonographers are not statutorily regulated healthcare professionals, so it has been difficult to collate data about the number of sonographers working in obstetric ultrasound. Gill said: “The SoR is pleased to see that an annual census will include data on sonographer numbers.” 

Another important theme was the need to implement national evidence-based practice guidance while working to reduce local health inequalities. An ambition within the plan is that “where local policy varies from national standards, this is subject to careful local scrutiny through governance processes. The whole multidisciplinary team is involved when developing local guidance.” Gill said: “This must include the sonographer workforce when local policy deviates from national guidance that affects ultrasound services.”

Gill added: “Sonographers and radiographers are providing excellent care under challenging circumstances within maternity and neonatal services. There are examples of great work in antenatal and neonatal settings by SoR members. We need to be sharing these widely to showcase the role our members play in the pregnancy and neonatal pathway.”