Bullying and racial discrimination on maternity wards is putting mothers and babies at risk, the head of the doctors’ watchdog has suggested.

Charlie Massey, the chief executive of the General Medical Council (GMC), said young medics working in obstetrics and gynaecology are more likely to be undermined by their peers and receive less support than colleagues in other specialisms.

He warned that this risked undermining safe outcomes for mothers and babies, saying "the human cost is absolutely tragic" when things go wrong.

His comments follow a series of NHS maternity scandals in recent years, most recently at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, where an inquiry found more than a dozen women and 40 babies died due to unsafe care.

Addressing the NHS Confederation conference, Mr Massey said: "Our data tells us that obstetrics and gynaecology trainees say they experience more bullying, are more likely to switch to other specialties, and feel less well supported than trainees working in other specialties.

"It’s also a profession that loses more of its newly-appointed consultants than others, and it’s an area of medicine where doctors from ethnic minorities feel much less well-supported than their white counterparts.

"Culture and leadership are also frequent themes. This manifests itself in a lack of honesty, poor clinical governance and poor teamwork between the different professions, and it too often it leads to missed opportunities to learn and a failure to spot problems at an early stage."

The Ockenden report into the scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford, published last December, found that the trust had failed to properly investigate incidents of poor care by staff over decades.

This included denying women choice at birth, such as being forced to undergo traumatic forceps deliveries, leaving babies with broken bones.

The inquiry is investigating 1,869 cases of poor care.