A maternity hospital has been urged to make improvements after whistleblowers raised concerns that midwives were too exhausted to keep patients safe due to low staffing levels.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has raised the rating of Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT) maternity services from good to needs improvement, although confidence remains good overall.
Inspectors made an unannounced visit to the maternity ward in November after concerns were raised by staff whistleblowers and complaints were lodged by patients.
They found that the ward did not have enough nurses and midwives to keep women and babies safe.
A CQC spokesperson said: ‘Several staff mentioned that the unit sometimes felt unsafe due to the number and number of women in the unit.
“Midwives went above and beyond to work in extremely difficult circumstances and spoke of low numbers and burnout.”
The report also raised concerns that managers “were not always able to manage effectively”.
Other issues included the failure to implement recommendations to reduce the additional risk of Covid-19 for women from black, Asian and minority groups (Bame) and staff did not always identify and treat sepsis according to national guidelines.
Amanda Williams, CQC Hospital Inspection Manager, said: “During our inspection of maternity wards at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the two hospitals we visited were incredibly busy and we saw the impact that staff shortages had on the service.
“Staff were seen working beyond their expectations and some staff told inspectors that there were not enough midwives to keep people safe and that they were exhausted.
“The practice development team was frequently called upon to replace clinical staff, which prevented them from fulfilling their function as an educational resource.
“This meant meetings were often unattended or postponed and training was put on hold so staff could focus on clinical care.
“However, the trust management team now put measures in place to ensure there were sufficient staff in the departments.
“We were also concerned that staff were not always treating sepsis in a timely manner or following national guidelines.
“This has been raised as an urgent issue for the trust and they have now put in place an action plan to address our concerns.
“The trust management team know what they need to do and they have assured us that action plans are in place to drive the necessary improvements.
“In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the trust to ensure that it puts in place the necessary improvements.”
Julie Dawes, chief nursing officer at HHFT, said the trust had been forced to redeploy staff from normal workplaces as well as suspend training and education to focus on patient care for the past 18 months. .
She said: ‘Safe and high quality maternity care is a priority for us and as such this is a disappointing report to receive.
“Our maternity teams continue to work tirelessly to support the women in their care and we are working hard to implement the recommendations of the CQC.
“We appreciate the ideas from the CQC that help us improve the care we provide to women and babies.
“Our continued investment means that since the inspection, our workforce has improved through a sustained recruitment and training program, and additional training has been put in place.
“This is a truly useful report to support our vision to provide exceptional care to our patients and we are fully committed to resolving all issues raised.”