York and Scarborough: Safety concerns over maternity shortages

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York hospitalImage source, Google
Image caption,
An investigation into the whistleblower's claims is under way at the trust which runs York and Scarborough hospitals

Maternity service staffing levels at York and Scarborough NHS are "putting women and babies' lives in danger every day", according to a whistleblower.

Staff shortages meant community midwives had worked 24-hour shifts and women in labour have had to be diverted to other hospitals, the source said.

A review found a shortfall of 21 midwives in York and Scarborough units.

The hospitals' trust said its staff worked hard to ensure patient safety was not compromised.

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is co-operating with the Care Quality Commission in an investigation after the whistleblower raised concerns, hospital trust board papers show.

The documents also state the number of serious incidents across all of the trust's services "associated with the delivery of fundamental care" is "of concern," the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

'Unit never fully staffed'

The anonymous staff member wrote: ''Levels of staffing appear so unsafe as to be putting women and babies lives in danger every day.

"When fully staffed, the labour ward has four midwives for 14 beds, beds that are often filled with increasingly high-risk patients who require one-to-one care.

"Additionally, the unit is never fully staffed any more, or even close."

The whistleblower said on-call community midwives were expected to attend overnight to help, despite often having already worked a day shift.

"The best midwife in the world would not be able to make safe choices for women and babies on a 24-hour shift," they said.

It is not clear which of the York or Scarborough maternity units the whistleblower is referring to.

Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) documents reveal immediate actions to "ensure safety is not compromised" have led to more home births services being suspended, more requests to transfer women to Scarborough for planned induction and more women in labour being diverted to alternative hospitals.

Image source, Pauline E/Geograph
Image caption,
Scarborough is the trust's second biggest hospital, with York the largest

One new mum said she was not induced on the day she was supposed to be at York Hospital due to staffing issues and was sent to Leeds instead after going into labour.

"Having that extra distance between the hospital and home adds a level of stress and anxiety that you can do without at what should be a completely magical time," she said.

A trust spokesperson said: "Patient safety is our priority and our staff work hard to ensure this is not compromised. 

"Many maternity units are facing recruitment issues, and recruiting sufficient numbers of midwives has been challenging - we have plans in place to increase midwife numbers, including recruiting from overseas.

"We have also increased the number of support staff working in maternity, for example healthcare assistants, who can provide additional support and release time for midwives to provide care." 

A joint in-depth review of maternity services will take place with the CCG in January.

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