RCM warns measures to relieve pressures may put safety at risk

By Colin Beesley on 27 August 2021 NHS Staff NHS NHS England NHS Funding Midwifery Continuity of Carer - MCOC

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned that measures to reduce pressure on maternity services are putting safety at risk. In a letter to Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer at NHS England, the RCM acknowledges the effectiveness of some measures to relieve pressure on staff and services, but expresses concern at others.

The impact of long-term staffing shortages and under-investment, which the RCM has been highlighting over many years, has been laid bare by the pandemic. The RCM is warning that these pressures are now at a point where they will start to have a serious and negative impact on staff and services, and the quality and safety of care they can deliver.

“We have got to recognise and foster innovation where we know it has a positive effect on staff and the quality of the work they can do,” said Gill Walton. “However, we must challenge things being done, even if they are intrinsically good, when it is not the right time to do them.”

In the letter the RCM’s Chief Executive Gill Walton outlines many areas which the RCM supports where positive action by NHS England and trusts is helping to relieve pressures and support the delivery of better care. In particular, the RCM supports the suspension of the further rollout of midwifery continuity of care schemes, the delivery of which is placing significant strain on many maternity services already struggling with unprecedented pressure. The RCM also supports effort to ensure newly qualified midwives get jobs in the NHS, better support for preceptorships for newly qualified midwives, and more flexible working. 

However, there are many measures being taken that are hitting the quality of care and which the RCM cannot support. Of particular concern is the practice of putting nurses into midwifery roles, while nurses and other professionals are being brought in to cover senior midwifery vacancies. Reductions in specialist midwifery roles and services is also, the RCM argues, the wrong decision. Maternity services are also seeing super-numerary labour ward coordinator roles removed.

Gill added: “It’s important that our members know what local proposals the RCM supports and in what circumstances we are likely to raise concerns or challenge. We seek at all times to work constructively at local, regional and national level to support sound decision making in order to keep maternity services safe and we will continue to work with Trusts, LMSs and with NHSE/I to ensure this happens”.