The Department of Health has announced new measures to make giving birth safer, including maternity safety funding and publishing maternity ratings in clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
The measures will provide resources for trusts to improve their approach to maternity safety, including £8 million for multi-disciplinary training, with at least £40,000 available to each NHS trust in England.
A £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund will also be set up to help create and pilot new ideas for improving maternity care.
The safer maternity care action plan will also see new maternity ratings for every clinical commissioning group (CCG) across the NHS published to improve transparency, raise standards and give families better information about the quality of local maternity services.
Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, said: “Our NHS maternity staff do a fantastic job under huge pressure. But even though we have made much progress, our stillbirth rates are still amongst the highest in Western Europe and many on the frontline say there is still too much of a blame culture when things go wrong – often caused by fear of litigation or worry about damage to reputation and careers.
“These comprehensive measures will give practical support to help trusts improve their approach to safety – and help to foster an open and transparent culture so that the courts become a last resort not an automatic first step.
“By learning from proven methods in countries like Sweden we hope to achieve a dramatic reduction in the number of tragedies where babies are lost or injured for life.”
Eligible families will be given the option to join a system of compensation that offers support and regular payments to parents without the need to bring a claim through the courts.
The scheme would ensure families receive personalised support including counselling, case management and legal advice.
A similar scheme operating in Sweden has reduced serious avoidable birth injuries by around 50% in the last 6 to 7 years.
There will also be a consultation on a new rapid resolution and redress (RRR) scheme to investigate and learn lessons from more than 500 incidents each year.
In cases where harm was avoidable this would offer timely access to financial support without the current obligation on families to launch a formal legal process.
At present, the average time families have to wait for resolution of a case is 11.5 years.
The action plan is part of the ambition to halve neonatal death, stillbirth, maternal death and brain injuries caused during or shortly after labour by 2030.