Pregnant women should be given a budget of around £3,000 to be spent on services including a midwife of their choosing, a major review has concluded.
Under plans proposed by the National Maternity Review, women would be told about local NHS providers, but given flexibility to make their own choices about their care.
Mums-to-be could opt for a hospital near work for routine scans, but a hospital closer to home for their baby”s birth, or choose a provider offering the same midwife throughout pregnancy, birth and postnatal care, the authors said.
The scheme would give women more choice over how and where they give birth – an important decision at a time when half of maternity services in England are classed as “inadequate” or “require improvement”.
The proposals have been compared to personal health budgets, where people with disabilities or long-term conditions have a say over how NHS cash is spent on their care.
That system has come under fire amid reports of abuse, with some patients using their budgets to buy holidays and video games.
Despite rapid improvement over the last 10 years, the review highlights safety concerns, including some hospitals failing to own up when something has gone wrong.
The review”s authors call for a standardised investigation process and “rapid redress” for families whose babies suffer harm.
The review also calls for better continuity of care and more resources for postnatal care.
Chair Baroness Julia Cumberledge said: “Women have told us they want to be given genuine choices and have the same person looking after them throughout their care.
“We must ensure that all care is as safe as the best and we need to break down boundaries and work together to reduce the variation in the quality of services and provide a good experience for all women.”
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “The independent review… rightly argues that the NHS could and should raise its game on personalised support for parents and their babies, better team working, better use of technology, and more joined-up maternity and mental health services.”