Edwin Poots' maternity plan targets a reduction in Caesarean births
A strategy aimed at reducing the number of women having a Caesarean section has been launched by the Health Minister.
Edwin Poots has revealed his vision for the future of maternity services in Northern Ireland but it is not yet known where specific services will be delivered.
The document has recommended more emphasis on care being delivered by midwives where this is safe for mother and baby.
It said the care of pregnant women with complex medical needs will be led by a consultant.
The aim of the strategy is to increase the number of women who give birth without surgical intervention.
Northern Ireland currently has the highest rate of C-sections in the UK and Ireland. Almost 30% of babies here are delivered by C-section compared to 24% in England, 26% in Wales and Scotland and 25% in the Republic.
Mr Poots revealed the strategy at Stormont ahead of an announcement on Tuesday on the latest developments of the ongoing major review of health and social care in Northern Ireland.
The recommendations in the blueprint for maternity services in Northern Ireland tie in closely with the ethos of the Transforming Your Care review.
Mr Poots wants as much care as possible to be delivered close to home, with less reliance on hospitals.
The minister said while this could mean some women travelling further to access maternity services, for others it could mean the service would be closer to their home.
“The provision of safe, sustainable, high quality maternity services is one of my main priorities,” he said. “I want to promote maternity services which are commissioned and provided on best available evidence in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for mothers and babies.”
Professor Cathy Warwick, co-chair of the review, said: “High quality care does not need to equate to hospital care for every woman.
“The midwifery team are highly skilled professionals who will deliver maternity care, predominately in the local community.
“They will be partners in care with parents, GPs and other primary care professionals, and hospital doctors. Risk assessment will be continuous throughout pregnancy and delivery.
“Access to technology will no longer have to be hospital-based but can be delivered in an integrated way in community settings and closer to home.”
Mr Poots said implementation of the strategy will result in some changes to where services are delivered.
In midwife-led units, care is provided by midwives and is only available to women who are considered low risk.
Any woman with complex medical conditions, who has experienced difficulties in previous births, or expecting more than one baby, will go to a consultant-led unit.
The maternity strategy has stressed consideration must be given to ensuring any woman who experiences difficulties during labour in a midwife-led unit must be able to be transferred to a consultant-led unit quickly.