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Maternity safety 'suffers from lack of staff'

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A lack of staff, leadership and communication are making it difficult to improve the safety of maternity services, senior midwives have reported.

A report by the King’s Fund published today, based on discussions with midwives and other senior maternity staff, said staff levels and communications were “of great concern to the majority of units”.

There are problems recruiting and retaining staff, especially more experienced midwives, and there is poor leadership in units and on boards.

Another problem identified was teamwork, which many teams felt was “poor or even non-existent” in their units. They reported bullying and racism, poor relationships between senior midwives and senior registrars, and ineffective communication.

The report, which is part of the King’s Fund’s ongoing Safer Births programme, said clinicians were improving services despite the barriers.

Solutions included joint training of teams from different trusts, deploying staff differently for example rostering across ward and community teams, and multidisciplinary handovers.

King’s Fund policy director Anna Dixon said: “This report shows that maternity professionals are introducing new ways of working that should improve the safety of care provided to mothers and babies.

“Yet frontline staff who took part in our events also identified obstacles they face in providing the safest possible care.”

Frances Day-Stirk, RCM director of learning, research and practice development, said: “This is a welcome report that highlights the real need for continuing investment in midwives and maternity services. I am not surprised at the findings – which reflect and reinforce the conclusions of previous reports from other organisations – and what the RCM itself has been saying for some time.

“There is no doubt that midwifery numbers need to increase, because the stress of working ever harder to provide good quality services has a major impact on retaining midwives and bringing new ones into the profession,” she said.

The government previously announced additional funding for maternity services between 2008 and 2011, and said an additional 4,000 midwives would be appointed by 2012.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • There will always be a shortage of midwives unless we strive to retain them.
    I left midwifery due to the stresses of working with few staff, constant rotation between wards leading to bad skill mixes and lack of team work, bullying by senior managers and lack of support. I should have left years ago as this has now made me ill. Midwives and all other health care workers work very hard for no thanks. Today the service provision comes first and the welfare of the staff is last.

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