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Failing standard of maternity care continues at Sheffield

Failing standard of maternity care continues to be a concern.

The failing standard of maternity care in parts of the UK are under constant criticism, as there appears to be almost daily calls for urgent action.

At a local level, government inspectors last year warned Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, one of the UKs largest hospital trusts, that the lack of properly qualified staff was putting women and babies at risk of harm. Despite the warning, the health watchdog has found that the maternity services have failed to improve or have deteriorated further in some cases.

Sheffield’s Jessop Wing maternity unit, which had been rated “outstanding” in past government inspections, was found to have issues with cardiotocography (CTG), used to measure a baby’s heart rate. There were also significant concerns about the safety of women on the labour ward, where delays in inducing labour were common. Pain relief in labour was not always given appropriately, and foetal monitoring, which was one of the areas of concern in previous inspections, “continued to lack urgency”. The documentation was also found to be short of national guidelines.

One of the most alarming aspects highlighted in the report was staff saying that they had difficulty getting help when a woman’s health deteriorated.

Karl Norwood, operational manager for the Royal College of Nursing in Yorkshire and the Humber, commented on the current 5,000 nursing vacancies in Yorkshire, saying:

“It’s no wonder that trusts like Sheffield, that in the past have had an excellent record of care and delivery, just don’t have enough staff.

“We’re almost in a vicious circle, where nursing staff who are working are stressed and overstretched because they’re covering huge gaps in the rotas.

“They’re simply burnt out so we’re seeing high levels of nurses leaving the profession.”

John McQuater, head of litigation at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “It is a real  concern that there have been no meaningful safety improvements since the last inspection.

“It’s widely recognised that the NHS is facing enormous pressures, but the trusts’ leadership must recognise the risks associated and manage them more effectively, otherwise we fear even more tragic outcomes. These mothers and babies deserve better.”

The true scale of the issues may never be known; the Care Quality Commission reported that they had found 35 patient safety incidents concerning lack of suitably trained staff. But staff told of two further serious incidents that inspectors could not find on the National Reporting and Learning System, which was designed to record these events.