A series of specialist care centres are to be launched across the NHS in England to provide treatment for pregnant women with serious medical problems.
The 17 hubs will offer help to women with pre-existing medical conditions or issues that arise during pregnancy, with at least one unit in every region of the UK.
Locations include Guy’s and St Thomas’ and St Georges NHS trusts in London, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, as well as sites in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
Each specialist centre will be led by a dedicated multidisciplinary team, including at least one obstetric physician.
NHS England said networks linked to the centres would provide access to expert maternal medicine care for all women and ensure maternity services and emergency departments were aware of key ‘red flag’ symptoms in pregnancy and have appropriate measures in place.
The most serious cases will be treated at these 17 centres, where they will be closely monitored and provided with specialist treatment throughout their pregnancy.
Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, England’s chief midwifery officer, said: ‘We know that pre-existing medical problems are a significant factor in the variation in rates of mortality for Black and Asian women.
‘The establishment of these maternal medical networks will improve every woman’s access to specialist care for medical problems in pregnancy and will play an important part in our wider efforts to improve care for women and babies right across our maternity services.’
The establishment of the centres forms part of NHS England’s commitment to halve maternity-related deaths, stillbirths, neonatal mortality and serious brain injury by 2025.
NHS England said that although maternal mortality in England is very rare, the majority of maternal deaths are caused by medical conditions that pre-date or develop during pregnancy – such as cardiac disease (23%), blood clots (15%) and epilepsy and stroke (13%) – that can be missed or misattributed to pregnancy.
Dr Matthew Jolly, national clinical director for maternity and women’s health, said: ‘For a number of years too often we have seen symptoms of serious medical problems being missed or misattributed to pregnancy.
‘Maternal medical networks and their specialist centres are a vital step in improving the identification and management of potentially fatal medical conditions in pregnancy, wherever a woman receives care, and to ensure England continues to improve in its position as one of the safest countries in the world to give birth.’