'Pandemic has amplified pressure': shortage of midwives highlighted as key issue affecting Jessop Wing

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The Royal College of Midwives highlighted the shortage of staff as a key reason maternity units are struggling, on the same day Sheffield’s Jessop Wing received an ‘inadequate’ rating from the CQC.

This morning (June 9) it emerged that, following an unannounced CQC investigation into Sheffield’s maternity unit, the Jessop Wing’s rating had been reduced, having previously been ‘outstanding’.

The service was rated ‘inadequate’ for being safe and well-led and ‘requires improvement’ for being effective. Responsive and caring were not rated at this inspection. It’s overall rating was ‘Inadequate’.

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Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, The Jessop Wing.Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, The Jessop Wing.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, The Jessop Wing.

Among its key findings, the CQC said there was a shortage of midwives at Jessop Wing. The investigation came after midwives at the unit raised concerns and tipped off the industry watchdog.

The CQC report said: “Data reviewed following our inspection showed that between 01 August 2020 and 01 March 2021 a total of 11 patient safety incidents had been raised due to staff shortage issues.”

The report went on to give as one of its examples: "Insufficient staffing was reported where there had been two postnatal woman awaiting ward beds with no beds available and two women requiring the advanced obstetric care unit (AOCU).

"There were further unwell women, including women with post-partum haemorrhage (PPH) and high-risk neonate and a diabetic lady on variable rate intravenous insulin infusion.

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"There was a further admission with lower (uterine) segment caesarean section (LSCS) for haematoma requiring a septic screen. There was reported to be only one midwife and one clinical support worker on duty to provide care for these patients.”

The RCM stressed that the shortage of midwives, the fact they are ‘overworked’ and the struggles maternity departments face in providing adequate care are linked.

A statement from the College said: “There must be long-term investment in the NHS and its staff to prevent the service haemorrhaging its people.

"A report from the Health and Social Care Committee [published June 8] says that burnout is widespread in today’s NHS and an excessive workload due to understaffing is a key driver.”

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Alice Sorby, Employment Relations Advisor at the RCM, added: “The pandemic has amplified the pressure that midwives and other maternity staff are under and exposed the gaping hole of understaffing and insufficient resources that besets maternity services and the wider NHS.

"This is simply a failure of successive governments over decades to invest long-term in the NHS, its staff and their pay, and this is pushing many of them out of the door.”

The shortage of midwives is compounded as the CQC increases its demands on maternity units to provide ‘continuity of care measures’ – meaning women see the same midwife throughout their pregnancy and labour.

This requires recruitment: something which Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust says it has already started doing.

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Kirsten Major, chief executive of the Trust, said: “Elements of our assessment process needed further review which we have done and whilst our midwifery staffing levels have not declined, we are taking on board what the CQC has said and have already recruited 30 new midwives to ensure we continue to deliver the care women have come to expect from the Jessop Wing.”

Ms Sorby said: “There are signs for optimism with additional money being put into NHS maternity services for more midwives, doctors and resources.

"However, this does not help our exhausted and demoralised midwives, maternity support workers and their NHS colleagues right now.

"They must be supported to recover from the massive efforts they have made throughout the pandemic – during which time, it’s worth remembering, maternity services never closed.

"The Government must also once and for all acknowledge the value of NHS staff and step-up investment in them to give them hope for the future. They must be reassured that their working lives will not be a constant battle to do their very best within a system that does not support them to do it.

"Now is the time.”