There is at least one centre in every region of the country and aims to help women with pre-existing medical conditions or conditions that arise during pregnancy.
This comes as the NHS Long Term Plan committed to halve the maternal mortality rate by 2025.
Each centre is led by a multidisciplinary team consisting of physicians, obstetricians, midwives, nurses and other clinicians who provide specialist medical advice before, during and after pregnancy.
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They sit within maternal medical networks which work with local GP’s, emergency departments and community midwifery services to ensure pregnant women have access to these services when needed.
Locations of the centres include Guy’s and St Thomas’, St Georges in London, Oxford University Hospitals and across Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
‘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,’ said Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, England’s chief midwifery officer.
NHS England figures show one in five women have a medical issue during pregnancy and so these networks will provide medication and procedures that are safe in pregnancy.
The most serious cases will be treated at the new 17 centres within the networks.
While some women may be sent for initial assessments to set up management plans for their conditions which can then be safely monitored locally, such as diabetes.
Dr Matthew Jolly, national clinical director for maternity and women’s health, explained that symptoms of serious medical problems have too often been 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.’
The NHS is investing £165 million annually for maternity services across England, to provide more personalised care for women and their babies.
‘Working with other health professionals, the centres will ensure maternity and medical staff can provide the right support as soon as its needed.
‘We are improving the quality of NHS care for mothers and babies and have invested £127 million to grow the workforce and improve neonatal care,’ said minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, Maria Caulfield.