A recent survey of Heads of Midwifery (HoMs) across hospitals has raised concern about patient safety across midwifery units against the current backdrop of austerity cuts and reduced budgets and shortages in midwifery care.
The survey, which analysed performance of 83 HoMs over the last 12 months, found understaffed and underfunded units struggling to deliver quality services and facing increasing demand. Across England and Wales there is currently a shortage of 2,600 full-time midwives.
Deliveries are increasingly complex with rising levels of obesity, older first time mothers and more multiple pregnancies among the reasons for this as well as a rising birth rate overall..
In the aftermath of catastrophic failings within Morecambe Bay maternity services, care over the preceding decade was reviewed and the findings were published in an independent report, earlier this year. Among the recommendations it was suggested that training be as robust as possible to avoid incidents of harm to patients.
Despite a clear correlation between high levels of training and improved patient safety, the warnings given in previous reports are still being ignored. With the combined deficit close to £1 billion already for the NHS this year, it is hard to see where further money will come from to increase staffing, training and in turn reduce incidents of harm to patients.
In addition to exposing mothers and babies to potential harm, staff cannot offer adequate cover through normal services and home births are an example of services that are suffering. In some areas, it has become so bad that community midwives who normally deal with ante natal care are being drafted in to attend home births. Again concern has been expressed regarding patient safety issues and the knock on effects in relation to other areas of care.
In the past year alone, around 42% of units shut down temporarily in the past year compared with almost 33% for the previous year.
Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives said:
‘When services are operating at or beyond their capacity, safety is compromised and mistakes can, and almost certainly will be made, through no fault of the dedicated staff delivering the service.’
She went on to express concern not only about the impact of Government cuts on mothers, babies and their families but also staff, saying this was ‘letting down…the staff they purport to value.’
Clarke Willmott have specialist lawyers who are highly experienced in dealing with cases relating to birth injury and patient safety issues in maternity care. If you or your family have been affected by the matters raised in this article please contact our team on 0800 316 8892 to discuss how to bring a claim.