A Devon acute trust is extending the temporary suspension of birthing services at two of its midwife-led maternity units, because of ongoing staffing shortages and safety concerns.
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust announced the move on Monday. The trust initially took the decision last year to suspend births and related inpatient stays at its Okehampton and Honiton maternity units, in order to maintain patient safety.
“We are still managing a high level of staff absences, including maternity leave”
Managers said a shortage of midwives was among a number of factors affecting the stability of services at these sites and at the other units it runs in Tiverton and Exeter.
The trust has since agreed with the newly-created Devon Clinical Commissioning Group that the temporary suspension of birth services at Okehampton and Honiton will continue until mid-September this year.
Head of midwifery Zita Martinez said the NHS provider had recruited more midwives but there were still staffing gaps that could compromise safety.
“Although we have successfully recruited to a number of our midwifery vacancies, we are still managing a high level of staff absences, including maternity leave,” she said.
A trust spokesman told Nursing Times that it was “near full establishment”, but absence rates were high. The sickness absence rate across the service is currently 6.68%.
Meanwhile, the trust said new policy and guidance on managing births – including an increased number of labour inductions, antenatal admissions with reduced fetal movements and need for ultrasounds – had put more pressure on specialist care provided at its main midwifery unit in Exeter.
“The positively received implementation of national policy in the Better Births and Saving Babies’ Lives guidance has meant that the complexity and acuity of women and babies we are caring for has significantly increased,” said Ms Martinez.
“This means that our main maternity unit in Exeter is experiencing greater levels of demand on the specialist care we provide,” she said.
“In the context of increasing complexity, re-opening Okehampton and Honiton maternity units for births and inpatient stays would result in the trust stretching our workforce too far and potentially compromising safety in our other delivery units,” she added.
“We are deploying our staff flexibly across the whole maternity service to maintain safe staffing”
The maternity unit at Exeter and stand-alone birth unit at Tiverton are open 24/7, while the centres at Okehampton and Honiton continue to be open for clinics and other midwife care and support from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
The trust confirmed that all antenatal and postnatal appointments, support clinics and home births would continue as normal in both areas served by the Okehampton and Honiton units.
Meanwhile, the trust spokesman said staff were being deployed to best effect across the organisation’s maternity service.
“We are deploying our staff flexibly across the whole maternity service to maintain safe staffing at Exeter and Tiverton maternity units,” he said.