‘Midwives Under Pressure’ – concerns about maternity care at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust

There has been plenty of recent media coverage addressing safety concerns about maternity services in England. Only a few months ago, the Care Quality Commission (‘CQC’) published findings that 67% of maternity units in England are ‘inadequate’ or ‘require improvement’. The high-profile Ockenden review into Nottingham’s maternity units is ongoing, and other Trusts are also feeling the heat of public criticism.

The latest NHS Trust to reach our headlines and face allegations of unsafe care for mothers and babies is Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust, which was graded ‘inadequate’ by the CQC in November 2023. Key issues were identified by the CQC in their report, including:

  • Concerns relating to safe-guarding practices. The CQC issued a warning notice in April 2023 regarding compliance with level 3 safeguarding training, designed to protect patients. In November 2023, the warning was re-issued, as the CQC’s concerns had not been fully addressed.
  • Delays in investigating incidents. At the end of March 2023, the CQC identified 215 incidents awaiting investigation.

On 29 January 2024, BBC Panorama aired a documentary about the issues within the Trust called ‘Midwives Under Pressure’, following whistle-blowing by several past and present midwives.

Patient case studies included the tragic deaths of two newborn babies within a year of each other at Cheltenham Birth Centre, and two mothers who sadly died during childbirth. Delays in transferring patients to other locations within the Trust which could offer appropriate emergency facilities have been identified as factors in poor patient outcomes. Seven women were found to have died between 2018 and 2022, which is about twice the national average. Whistle-blowers believe that the combination of staffing shortages, gaps in training, and dismissive management have created a fire-fighting culture and an environment which is no longer safe enough for patients.

Midwives have called the situation “desperate” as short-staffing has proved to be chronic and dangerous. Alarmingly, the Trust was short of over 50 midwifery staff in the first half of 2023.

Sadly, such allegations are unlikely to be confined to Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust. Many organisations are calling for a national inquiry into maternity care in England, which has the potential to expose a vast and pervasive problem in our healthcare system. Lessons are not being learned and patient safety hangs in the balance until institutional failings are addressed. Freeths is currently acting for hundreds of women and families across the country in relation to poor care during pregnancy and childbirth.

At Freeths, we are experts in investigating legal claims relating to poor maternity and neonatal care and supporting clients affected by associated trauma. We understand the physical and emotional trauma caused by unsafe maternity practices and that the wounds inflicted can cause lifelong issues. We represent mothers, babies, and their families in seeking answers and justice.

Our South team, headed by Partner Carolyn Lowe, covers Gloucestershire and surrounding counties. For a free confidential discussion about the maternity or neonatal care which you or a loved one has received, please contact Carolyn Lowe. For further information about the work we do, please visit our Clinical Negligence page.

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