The Royal College of Midwives has demanded an urgent meeting with the health secretary over the future of midwife-led units.

The Royal College of Midwives has demanded an urgent meeting with the health secretary over the future of midwife-led units.

General secretary Dame Karlene Davis has asked for talks following statements from the new NHS chief executive about maternity services.

In his first interview last week, David Nicholson said the 'wicked' issue of maternity services needed tackling as part of a series of 'tough decisions' over reconfigurations, and that pregnant women were best served by maternity departments big enough to sustain a 24-hour consultant-led service.

Speaking at an HSJ-chaired fringe meeting at this week's Liberal Democrat Party conference in Brighton, Dame Karlene's deputy Louise Silverton said there were 'mixed messages' coming from government, given Labour's manifesto pledge to offer all women a choice of where and how to give birth by 2009.

Ms Silverton referred to Mr Nicholson's statement as 'an attack' on midwife-led units, and said: 'The general secretary has called for an urgent meeting with Patricia Hewitt because we are getting mixed messages here.'

She said ongoing closures of midwife-led units left her 'very concerned that there won't be any choice left by 2009'.

Speaking later, Ms Silverton said that under payment by results, midwife-led units were being penalised by tariffs set at unaffordable levels because they automatically got a worse risk rating than consultant-led services under the clinical negligence scheme for trusts.

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