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Rise in complaints made against 'under pressure' midwives

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Complaints against midwives in NHS secondary care services in England have risen more sharply than any other profession, new data reveals.

NHS Digital figures, published today, show 3,785 written grievances were lodged against midwives working in hospital and community health settings during 2017-18, a rise of 11% from 3,411 the previous year.

“It is inevitable that sometimes maternity staff are not able to deliver the care they want”

Sean O’Sullivan

While midwifery did not receive the most complaints, the percentage increase was higher than any other role over the two-year period, according to a report on the data.

Sean O’Sullivan, head of health and social policy at the Royal College of Midwives, said England remained “seriously short” of midwives, leaving the current workforce under increasing pressures.

“With many services at full stretch and with midwives and other staff often not getting breaks and working long shifts, it is inevitable that sometimes maternity staff are not able to deliver the care they want, to the level they want,” he added.

“We know that because our members tell us this and they themselves are very often frustrated and indeed angered by this,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said the number of complaints was “very small” compared to the number births and added that research showed most women were happy with the care they received from NHS midwives.

The government has previously committed to training more than 3,000 extra midwives over four years.

“What people want to see is what the NHS has learnt and what has been improved”

Imelda Redmond

Mr O’Sullivan said the staffing boost would “lessen the pressure on services” and enable midwives to deliver even better care.

The nursing profession received the second highest number of written complaints after medical with 35,873. However, this was a 2.5% decrease from 2016-17 when there were 36,784.

The profession that experienced the biggest drop in grievances (13.3%) was health visitors, from 452 to 392 over the two years.

Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, said the main reason people made complaints about the NHS was to ensure others did not have to “suffer the same fate in the future”, as opposed to seeking compensation.

She added: “Rather than just counting the number of complaints, what people want to see is what the NHS has learnt and what has been improved as a result. This is the best way to build confidence in the complaints process.”

Overall, the NHS in England received 208,626 written complaints during 2017-18, which was a small jump from 208,415 the previous year.

There were 94,637 complaints to primary care services, a rise of 4.5% from 90,579 in 2016-17. But in secondary care complaints fell by 3.3% from 117,836 to 113,989.

NHS Digital did not release a profession breakdown of complaints for primary care.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “More than a million patients use the NHS every 36 hours and -  while the vast majority are satisfied with the care they receive - we welcome all forms of feedback from patients and their families so we can continue to improve the services we deliver to them.”

Key findings on complaints in secondary care:

  • The medical profession received the highest number of written complaints with 65,737, a 1.2% decrease from 2016-17 when there were 66,502 complaints.
  • The nursing profession received the second highest number of written complaints with 35,873, a 2.5% decrease from 2016-17 when there were 36,784.
  • Midwifery was the profession with the highest percentage increase in written complaints rising by 11% from 3,411 in 2016-17 to 3,785 in 2017-18.
  • The profession with the highest percentage decrease in written complaints was health visitors. The number dropped by 13.3% from 452 in 2016-17 to 392 in 2017-18
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