A random Care Quality Commission (CQC) visit to check on Bedford Hospital’s maternity services identified no “negative impact on women or baby safety” from staff shortages, after a recruitment drive and other improvements, a meeting heard.
“Bedford merged with the Luton and Dunstable around the beginning of the pandemic, which is important context of where the organisation is,” according to chief nurse at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Liz Lees.
“In November 2020, we had an unannounced inspection following staff concerns around the staffing levels,” she told Central Bedfordshire Council’s social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee.
“The service was rated inadequate which is really disappointing and difficult for the team, and also for the women that use our service,” she explained.
“The subsequent visit in June 2021 was equally unannounced. The CQC came back just for a day and didn’t change the rating, but noticed some significant improvements within the service.
“We’ve made some changes appointing a director of midwifery, along with two heads of midwifery and increased our clinical director leadership.
“We recognised quickly because Bedford is a smaller service some more senior people were needed in the midwifery team.
“There’s national recognition of a shortage of midwives. That remains the challenge for our services across both hospitals.
“We’re working on quite creative plans to look at our recruitment and retention of midwives and obstetricians.
“Since our initial CQC inspection we’ve increased our obstetric presence at Bedford from seven consultants to ten, which is a significant number for a relatively small service.”
A report to the committee warned: “Clearly the current situation is incredibly challenging, as the Omicron variant has resulted in significant staffing issues over the winter period.”
The trust’s director of midwifery Emma Hardwick said: “We’ve received some positive feedback. We’re beginning to see some really good outcomes now some of the staff have been here for around ten months.
“Significantly, having a bereavement midwife in post has been important both for families experiencing sad events and also for our staff, so we can provide the best care for these families and offer the emotional support.
“We’ve been working closely with the University of Bedfordshire and appointed two clinical tutor posts, which aim to provide support to our student midwives and particularly to our newly qualified midwives. The retention of our staff is absolutely vital.
“The initial CQC visit reported on concerns over some of the risk management, and safety and governance processes at Bedford Hospital maternity site.
“We were delighted with the June 2021 feedback that they’re much more assured about these measures. We continue to work hard on this.”
Conservative Ampthill councillor Paul Duckett said: “It can’t just be down to staffing. You’ve risen to that challenge. Is it something people don’t want to do now?”
Ms Lees replied: “We’ve recruited some senior midwives. But it’s our junior, new graduate midwives which are the missing cohort.
“It’s a hard job. It’s physically and emotionally demanding. The pandemic made some people retire early. That’s a real issue.
“And the projections for today’s required number of midwives made years ago weren’t adequate, so they’re not emerging from the university programme.”