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Care watchdog downgrades two more NHS maternity units over safety concerns

·3-min read
Maternity wards across the NHS need to improve their safety record the CQC has warned (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Maternity wards across the NHS need to improve their safety record the CQC has warned (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Maternity services at two hospitals run by the same NHS trust have both been downgraded by the care watchdog after whistleblowers raised the alarm over unsafe staffing levels and a poor culture.

The Care Quality Commission said services at Colchester Hospital and Ipswich Hospital ‘requires improvement’ after previously being rated ‘good’ following an inspection in March and April.

The regulator said it found staffing shortages at both sites, run by the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust.

At Colchester Hospital staff were found to be using a handwritten book to manage inductions which was being regularly amended and moved. This meant staff did not always know how many women were planned to arrive for inductions, affecting how staffing levels were organised.

Inspectors raised concerns over poor handovers that meant information about women and babies were not shared between staff.

At Ipswich Hospital the CQC found patient records were not detailed and staff were again relying on handwritten notes that were not easy to navigate. Staff claimed the information systems they had were inefficient and took up a lot of time.

It also found staff were not working as a team with meetings between doctors, midwives and other staff poorly attended and unstructured.

It is the second time in a week that the CQC has downgraded maternity services at an NHS trust after a damning review of maternity care at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust last week where services crashed from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ – the lowest possible rating.

Staff shortages meant agency staff were being relied on while trust staff were working extra hours leading to burnout and high levels of sickness. The lack of staff delayed treatments such as labour and some staff had not completed their required training.

The regulator has warned NHS maternity services they need to do better on safety after concerns were raised about the quality of maternity care across the country. NHS England has anounced a £96 million investment in maternity services including funding for 1,000 extra midwives and dedicated safety training for staff.

Philippa Styles, CQC head of hospital inspection, said: “We received information from whistleblowers regarding staffing within maternity at Colchester Hospital. We are grateful to these whistleblowers as our inspection found the number of midwives and healthcare assistants were below levels required to keep women and babies safe.

“We also found a staff shortage at Ipswich Hospital.

“During the inspection, staff across both units told us they felt let down by a lack of oversight from the trust’s board and senior leadership team, who were slow to act when issues were raised.

“Some staff told us morale was low and they did not always feel respected, supported or valued by senior leaders. This affected the care they delivered.”

The CQC said staff were committed to the care of women despite staff shortages and that bosses at the trust had confirmed staffing was their key concern.

Colchester Hospital has started a rolling recruitment drive for new midwives with 16 due to start at the time of the CQC inspection.

Inspectors found staff there did apologise to patients when things went wrong and gave women honest information.

The trust has since invested £1.4 million in maternity services including an extra 10 midwives a month from July onwards as part of an international recruitment effort.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, said: “We accept the CQC’s findings and have already taken action to improve our staffing levels, leadership and processes to ensure patient safety.

“We are investing in recruitment for our maternity services, and are pleased that a new expert senior midwife will be joining us shortly to lead our service, with an additional 30 midwives due to join us over the next few months.”

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