Royal College of Midwives welcomes NHS announcement on digital maternity records

The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the news that NHS England will invest millions into speeding up the adoption of digital maternity records.

Following the announcement that the NHS is set to provide £52 million to support the implementation of online maternity records, which will allow women easy access to their medical information and provide patients with “full control of their pregnancy journey”, the RCM has responded with its view on the importance of the funding.

Chief Nursing Officer for England, Ruth May, announced the funding boost for the programme at the NHS Confederation Conference in June, and the aim is that all women will be able to view their maternity notes and information, online or via smart phones and devices, by 2023/24.

This year, the RCM has been calling for further investment in digital technologies across all UK maternity services, including recommending that a digital midwife should be placed in every trust or health board, and also published new guidance on electronic record keeping for maternity staff.

In response to NHSE’s announcement, the RCM’s Director for Professional Midwifery, Mary Ross-Davie said: “We know maternity services can deliver safer and even better care through the use of digital technology, so the RCM really welcomes this investment. For too long maternity services have been overlooked, passed over and generally left at the back of the queue when it comes to digital investment.

“Investing in digital technology and giving staff the training and equipment they need will lead to better care, regardless of where that care is delivered. Investing in this area will also free up midwifery time enabling them to spend more clinical time with pregnant women.

“Crucially, this will improve the maternity experience of pregnant women. Having to repeat information to different healthcare professionals can be frustrating, and for some women, such as those who have experienced previous pregnancy loss, it can be deeply upsetting too. Giving women access to their own maternity records via their smartphones or online will benefit many women immensely and no doubt ensure each women can feel more in control of her pregnancy.”

In a recent survey on its members’ attitudes to digital technology, the RCM says almost 90% of those who responded said they felt ‘confident or very confident using digital technology at work’ and almost 50% said they could ‘already see technology improving maternity care’.

NHS England and NHSX have also taken wider steps to enhance digital maternity care this year. In addition to the funding to speed up online records, the NHS appointed Julia Gudgeon to the position of National Digital Midwife, to work as part of NHSX’s Digital Child Health and Maternity Team and to play an important role in digitising maternity services and providing leadership in this area at a national level.

The news also fits in as part of a greater nationwide approach, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) also recently announcing new funding for maternity care services, with a focus on care and safety for babies at childbirth. This funding push includes also making around £450,000 available to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to create a tool for maternity departments to use to improve calculation of staffing requirements.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive at the RCM, said: “The RCM also welcomes the funding that has been allocated to the RCOG to develop a new maternity obstetric workforce planning tool. Far too many maternity reviews have cited understaffing and the impact that has on safety in maternity services. The development of such a tool will bolster safety and improve on the current maternity staff skill mix, which is key to delivering safe, high-quality maternity care.”