National midwife shortage is major factor in ‘inadequate’ maternity dept at Bedford Hospital

Bedford Hospital (Photo: Dr Robert Oakley)

Health chiefs at Bedford Hospital have sought to reassure patients after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated maternity services ‘inadequate’.

David Carter, chief executive at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and chief nurse, Liz Lees, told the Bedford Independent that they were determined to create a positive culture in the department, so staff felt valued and listened to.

They were also aiming to ‘over recruit’ midwives to ensure adequate staffing levels.

A surprise inspection of the department took place in November 2020, after a number of staff raised concerns around safety directly with the CQC.

Read:Hospital maternity services ‘inadequate’ demanding significant improvement

“Staff approached the CQC directly,” said Liz. “They didn’t feel safe raising their concerns internally.

“My goal is for staff to feel confident about raising issues and to create a positive culture in the department.”

Issues flagged by the CQC included poor staffing levels and insufficient training for staff.

“There is a significant national shortage of midwives,” said David Carter. “We won’t solve that problem overnight as recruitment takes time.”

“We’re trying to over-recruit,” explained Liz. “Plus we’ve set up an apprenticeship programme and are encouraging nurses to top up their training to become midwives.”

CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Ted Baker, said: “We rated Bedford Hospital’s maternity services Inadequate overall due to concerns about staffing levels, insufficient training for staff and a poor culture amongst employees.

“Many of the concerns we had during this inspection had previously been highlighted in 2018.”

David Carter, Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Hospital chiefs are determined to see the CQC report as a positive step and a chance for a fresh start as part of the merger of Bedford Hospital and the L&D.

“Prior to the merger, rumours of downgrading the hospital were rife and made a big difference to recruiting midwives,” said David.

“Following the merger, the future of Bedford Hospital was secured and now trainee midwives have the chance to train over both sites.

“The L&D’s maternity department is rated good, which should reassure the midwives in Bedford that things can and will change.”

The report commended the department for its infection control, a significant challenge during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and David and Liz praised staff for their response.

Mother and baby
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Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire, said he was reassured after speaking with the Trust’s chief executive that improvements were being put in place.

He said: “I am grateful to the CQC for their rigorous inspection and to the Chief Executive of the Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust for discussing with me the plans for improvement.

“I conveyed the importance that the deficiencies in terms of leadership and staffing identified in the report are addressed and I am reassured that the Chief Executive both recognises this need and has already taken decisive action.”

Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, confirmed he was meeting with the head of the hospital trust to determine how the improvements can be made as soon as possible.

“The Royal College of Midwives has been warning for years that the safety of maternity services across the country is under serious threat because of staffing shortages,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the CQC report reveals these ongoing issues are also being experienced at Bedford Hospital, which is worrying for parents and staff.

Mr Yasin acknowledged that Bedford Hospital’s maternity unit was staffed by dedicated professionals, caring for women, babies and their families under the enormous added pressures of the pandemic.

“Maternity services are vital for Bedford, and expecting parents have the right to feel confident that the care they receive is at the very least safe.”

Ahead of the CQC’s visit in November, David and Liz confirmed that the maternity department was already making improvements.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” said David.

“We’re aiming to get to ‘good’ and then ‘outstanding’ ratings from the CQC in the future. I feel very positive about that and we’re determined to create the open culture that will help us achieve that.”

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