New RCM guide offers practical solutions to maternity safety crisis

By New RCM guide offers practical solutions to maternity safety crisis on 28 May 2024 RCM RCM Member RCM Wales Government NHS Staff Staffing Levels Midwifery Midwives MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Safe high quality care Safety Maternity Safety Multi Disciplinary Working Multi-disciplinary care NHS NHS Wales NHS England NHS Funding NHS Scotland Pregnancy Maternity Services maternity care assistant Funding

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is urging politicians and the incoming Government to tackle maternity safety head-on in its new pre-election How to Fix guide.  

Breaking down barriers between staff groups by strengthening multidisciplinary training, and ensuring there are enough staff in the right place at the right time with the right skills to mitigate safety risks are fundamental to resolving the challenges in maternity services, says the RCM. In addition, the College also wants incoming policy-makers to ensure senior midwives have direct access to NHS Executive Boards to share and interpret data and support staff to raise concerns without fear of retribution.

The RCM says improving maternity safety across the UK will not only restore women’s and wider public trust in maternity services, but it would also save the NHS millions of pounds in compensation payments which could instead be invested on improving services yet further. 

The How to Fix and Improve Maternity Safety Guide follows the How to Fix the Midwifery Staffing Crisis and has been developed for current and future policy-makers. The solutions to the issues contained in this guide are clear, says the RCM, but require genuine commitment from the next government. A failure to do so would risk leaving more women and their babies at risk, the RCM has warned.

Commenting, RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton said:

“Improving the safety of our maternity services must be a priority for the next Government. Every woman and family that walks through the doors of any maternity service, anywhere in the country, should feel confident that they will receive the best care and support possible. That is what midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) want too, every day despite the challenges. They continue to work determinedly, against a backdrop of understaffing and under investment to deliver the best care they can. Far too many reviews into failing maternity services cite the same issues repeatedly, such as not enough protected time for training, too few staff, and too little time to spend with women to pick up on concerns. All this while working in buildings with facilities and equipment that are not compliant with national standards or fit for purpose. We’ve recently seen reports of crucial resuscitation equipment that can’t be stored in rooms as there wasn’t enough space. How can this be the state of some UK’s maternity services in 2024?”

The RCM has long cautioned that the retention of midwifery staff is a risk to delivering safe care. Losing midwives with decades of skills and experience to burnout and stress can be avoided, says the RCM, by simply caring for their physical and mental health. The toll of staffing shortages was laid bare in the results of an RCM member survey that revealed during just one week earlier this year midwives and maternity support workers worked 145,000 hours overtime to keep services running safely.

Even this week NHS England admitted maternity staffing levels need to be protected say the RCM. With Julian Kelly, NHS England’s Chief Financial Officer, confirming the need for maternity services to be exempt from the national squeeze on workforce costs this year, the RCM is hopeful statement, but they are still awaiting more details on exactly what this means.

Gill added:

“There’s also the human factor, over-worked and over-tired maternity staff are at risk of making mistakes. Our members tell us that too often they are unable to take breaks, drink water or even go to the toilet. This is a safety issue more than anything else. These dangerous levels of overwork must be monitored as a matter of routine by the NHS both locally and nationally, as a safety-critical issue.”



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