CONCERNS over staffing levels have prompted the Care Quality Commission to order improvements to maternity services at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
The call follows a focused inspection last December after whistleblowing concerns and information received about the safety of the maternity department, particularly around midwifery staffing levels, risk and incident reporting and governance.
Inspectors found that staffing levels were often lower than planned.
Midwives said this led to them being frequently moved within the department.
The midwives also said morale was low due to longstanding staffing issues, and that they felt their concerns and views were not being considered by management.
The maternity unit at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch was controversially closed six years ago by Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust which said at the time that mums-to-be would be safer at the Royal with improved staffing levels.
The CQC inspectors found that staffing shortages, which should have been reported on an incident reporting system, weren’t because staff didn’t have time to do this and assumed senior staff would do it.
In addition, there was no clear process to identify if staffing gaps had been left vacant or filled by bank staff.
Inspectors heard that service managers were aware of these issues and had met with staff to discuss their concerns.
CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Ted Baker, said: “We fully appreciate that hospitals are facing a particularly challenging time.
“However, it is crucial that women get the safe and personalised birth experience they are entitled to and that midwifery staff feel supported and valued in order to achieve this.
“The service must ensure that any risks are identified, and safety incidents are correctly shared and reported to reduce their impact.
“Staff should never feel that their concerns are not listened to and we are pleased service managers have initiated meetings to listen to staff with a view to taking action in the problem areas.
“Inspectors were impressed with how staff actively and openly engaged with women, equality groups, the public and local organisations to plan and manage services. They collaborated with partner organisations to help improve services for women.”
Vicky Morris, Chief Nursing Officer at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The safety of mums to be and their babies is, and always has been, the absolute priority for everyone working in our maternity service.
“Managing maternity services through the Covid-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for all our staff and we thank them for their commitment during what has been a very difficult period.
“We were pleased that the report reflected the success of our efforts to redeploy colleagues to maintain safe staffing levels and the valuable support from our medical team.
“We were already taking action to address the midwifery staffing issues which are described in the report before the inspection was carried out, and we have continued to make progress since the inspectors visited us.
“We have run a very successful recruitment campaign for midwives and once the next round of recruitment is completed next week we should have filled all our vacancies and recruited an additional 10 midwives to further strengthen our workforce.
“We are also continuing to actively engage with all our staff. Our regular briefings with colleagues across all sites, which had been introduced before the inspection, give everyone in our teams opportunities to ask questions, raise concerns and be kept up to date with the further improvements.
“We have also strengthened local leadership for our countywide maternity team, recruiting two Matrons – one for inpatient services and one for community services.
“The reduction in the overall rating of our maternity service from Good to Requires Improvement is disappointing, but we believe that the actions we have already taken, and the plans we have in place for the immediate future, will help us to further improve the quality and safety of the care we provide.”