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Revealed: Almost Half of Maternity Wards Offering Substandard Care

Mothers and babies are being put at risk due to severe staff shortages, the official watchdog found

Almost half of NHS maternity wards rated as inadequate or requiring improvement. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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Almost half of all English maternity units are offering substandard care, making it one of the worst performing acute medical services in the NHS, Byline Times analysis has found.

The analysis, based on inspections of English hospitals by the Care Quality Commission, found that 85 of 172 inspected maternity services in England received ratings of ‘inadequate’ (18) or ‘requires improvement (67) at their latest inspection.

Some 65% of maternity wards were given subpar ratings for patient ‘safety’ one of several metrics looked at by the CQC.

The figures were a sharp rise on even the year before, and seem to reflect growing concerns over a crisis in NHS care.

The findings come after the health regulator began a focused inspection programme of maternity wards last year after the a government review into the Shropshire maternity scandal, which saw 300 babies left dead or brain damaged by shoddy care.

In one unit at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, there was a shortage of midwives, not all medicines practices were safe which “potentially placed women at risk of harm” and serious incidents were not being investigated. The report found a backlog of 215 patient safety incidents that had not yet been looked into, as of March this year.

The CQC was previously forced to look into the unit last year to the most recent report after “a high number of serious incidents associated with adverse outcomes for mothers and babies”.

A spokesperson for the hospital’s NHS Trust stressed that its patient safety backlog had now been largely addressed, and that the hospital had made major improvements since the inspection. 

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In a statement at the time of the inspection its chief executive said they were “determined that this report will provide further momentum and impetus to address the issues identified and are working harder than ever to engage and involve our frontline colleagues in finding solutions to our challenges”.

Other hospitals had only eight per cent of staff who had done certain core training and a lack of facilities that had endangered patients or were losing as many as seven FTE staff a month leaving maternity centres unable to open.

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Women’s Health Strategy, told Byline Times that “maternity care is of the utmost importance to this Government” and stressed they have “invested £165 million a year since 2021 to grow the maternity workforce and improve neonatal services”.

“Every parent must be able to have confidence in the care they receive when giving birth, and we are working incredibly hard to improve maternity services, focusing on recruitment, training, and the retention of midwives,” she added.

“But we know there is more to do. I welcome the Care Quality Commission’s commitment to monitor NHS trusts that are not providing adequate care to make sure improvements are made as quickly as possible.

“To do this, we have created a Maternity Safety Support Programme, dedicated to providing hands-on support to ensure trusts improve. It is already supporting 32 services, aiming to help trusts achieve a higher rating and provide a better and safer service.”

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CQC deputy chief executive Kate Terroni said that the regulator was yet to see “the progress needed” to address the safety defects in maternity care.

“Safe, high-quality maternity care for all is not an ambitious or unrealistic goal. It should be the minimum expectation for women and babies – and is what staff working in maternity services across the country want to provide,” she added.

“It’s not acceptable that maternity safety is still so far from where it needs to be. As a healthcare system, we need to do better for women and for babies.”

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