POLITICIANS today admitted that standards in maternity wards must be improved.
Their admissions came as a "deeply worrying" report highlighted chronic staff and equipment shortages.
The Healthcare Commission said the lives of new mothers and babies were at risk from poor conditions which make giving birth more dangerous than necessary.
An investigation chaired by Sir Ian Kennedy found poor organisation in wards, doctors who did not tell patients what was happening and dirty toilets, as well as a shortage of midwives.
Health Minister Liam Byrne said: "We welcome his acknowledgement that giving birth is safer now than ever before and that very few babies or mothers die.
"However, services are not yet good enough to meet the needs of all women and babies, wherever they live and whoever they are."
He said an action plan for change would be drawn up at a meeting of maternity care experts this week.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "The findings show that despite increasing resources for the NHS, a lack of genuine reform means resources are wasted and services are not held accountable," he added.
The commission's report said bad management, rather than a lack of money, was at the root of the problems,
A broader report on the NHS was going to MPs today. It focuses on patients' experience of the Health Service.