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CQC downgrades two more maternity units over safety concerns

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In what seems to be a worrying trend, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has downgraded two more maternity services run by the same NHS trust citing unsafe staffing levels, poor staff morale and culture.

Only a week ago, similar concerns over the safety of maternity services at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust resulted in a CQC downgrade from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ - the lowest possible rating. Now the CQC has rated maternity services at Colchester Hospital and Ipswich Hospital as ‘requires improvement’ after previously being rated ‘good’ following an inspection in March and April.

The regulator found staffing shortages at both sites, run by the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust. Staff at Colchester Hospital were using a handwritten notebook to manage inductions, meaning they did not always know how many women were planned to arrive for inductions which had a knock-on effect on safe staffing levels.

At Ipswich Hospital the CQC found patient records were similarly inadequate with staff again relying on handwritten notes, because they claimed the information systems they had were inefficient. Overall, the CQC also found that staff were not working as a team with meetings between doctors, midwives and other staff poorly attended and unstructured.

During the inspection, staff across both units told the CQC they did not always feel respected, supported or valued by senior leaders and management did concede that staff shortages meant agency staff were being relied on while trust staff were working extra hours leading to high levels of sickness and some staff not completing required training.

Amy Greaves, a clinical negligence specialist solicitor in Shoosmiths medical negligence team, commented:

“This report makes it clear that staffing levels were inadequate due to poor systems and poor communication, leading to poor planning. This is similar to failings found in other midwifery departments and, in her recent review of maternity care, Donna Ockenden identified that poor planning and management are just as indefensible as the failings in the care.”

Shoosmiths medical negligence team has experience of representing women who have received poor care on poor performing midwifery wards. The number of Trusts now being identified as having problems in midwifery departments further highlights the need for the Ockenden recommendations to be implemented to ensure patient safety.

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