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West Suffolk Hospital midwives praised for flagging concerns of 'substandard care' in the service



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West Suffolk Hospital’s interim chief has said it was 'absolutely the right thing to do' for midwives to flag concerns over care with the health watchdog and media.

Midwives in August penned a letter to the Care Quality Commission and Suffolk News' sister title, the Bury Free Press, outlining the 'substandard care' in the service, describing themselves as 'exhausted and broken' and 'regularly tearful and angry about the unsafe working conditions'.

Last week, the hospital’s interim chief executive Craig Black praised their bravery and said it was 'absolutely the right thing to do.'

Craig Black, interim chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust. Picture by West Suffolk Hospital.
Craig Black, interim chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust. Picture by West Suffolk Hospital.

"Our staff did reach the point where they were so uncomfortable with the quality of service they were providing that they found it necessary to write to both the CQC and the local press," he told the county’s health scrutiny committee.

"That is a really difficult and brave thing to do, and this is an opportunity to thank those members of staff that did feel so committed to the level of service they were providing on a daily basis that they felt the need to publicly air those concerns.

"All of the concerns that were raised I would personally share. There is a shortage of midwives in West Suffolk, there is a shortage of midwives across the NHS – we are not immune from those wider pressures.

The front page of the Bury Free Press from August 20.
The front page of the Bury Free Press from August 20.

"When we haven’t got enough staff that means we are not providing the level of service we would all want to provide.

"People are safe, and that is the first priority of the organisation – to keep people safe and I am confident that is what we do but It becomes more difficult when there are staffing pressures or demand pressures."

Problems cited by staff included shifts regularly being short-staffed, the constant pressures on midwives and expectations of what is considered being safe having been lowered to such a degree they felt it was “consistently unsafe”.

The service has relied upon community midwives to come in and support the labour wards, while executive chief nurse, Sue Wilkinson, said a meeting had been held with midwives over their concerns.

Elsewhere, financial incentives have been provided for staff to book into the bank system of shifts to ease dependence on community midwives, which Ms Wilkinson said had been 'very well received'.

She added: "That has not solved the problem but gone some way to mitigating the problem."

Health bosses explained to last week’s health scrutiny meeting that a business case to increase staffing levels in midwifery services had been agreed and a number of new midwives – either new to the trust or newly qualified entirely – had been recruited.

However, it had been acknowledged that Covid-19 had impacted on staff shortages as the recent return to school meant many midwives had been forced to self-isolate from instances of their children picking up the virus in schools.

Ms Wilkinson added: "We are working on a long term plan, we share all of our plans with the local maternity services board and working collaboratively across the region with our colleagues in ESNEFT (East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust) and colleagues in the CCG (clinical commissioning groups) to ensure as a system we are maximising any kind of recruitment capacity we can use, and ensuring we are delivering the care we want to deliver."

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