Advising with empathy and experience

Whistleblower claims maternity services at York hospital trust are unsafe


Maternity services at York and Scarborough NHS Trust are “so unsafe as to be putting women and babies’ lives in danger every day”, a whistleblower has claimed.

Staff shortages have meant that community midwives were working 24-hour shifts and women in labour were diverted to other hospitals due to staff shortages.

A recent review found a shortfall of 21 midwives across the York and Scarborough units, when measured against the ‘Birthrate Plus’ recommendations, a way of measuring safe staffing for maternity services.

The trust said that it is cooperating with health and care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, to investigate the whistleblower’s concerns, according to the hospital trust’s board papers seen by the York Press.

The papers also state that the total of serious incidents across all of the trust’s services “associated with the delivery of fundamental care” is “of concern."

The whistleblower wrote: “When fully staffed, the labour ward has four midwives for 14 beds that are often filled with increasingly high-risk patients who require one-to-one care. Additionally, the unit is never fully staffed anymore, or even close.”

Community midwives are expected to attend the unit on-call overnight to help, the whistleblower said.

They added: “This often manifests in community midwives working a day shift 8.30am-4.30pm, going to the unit to help with staffing at 4.30pm, then not leaving until 7am the following day. The best midwife in the world would not be able to make safe choices for women and babies on a 24 hour shift.”

According to board papers from the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) seen by the York Press: “Immediate actions to ensure safety is not compromised is however resulting in increased frequency of the need to suspend the home birth service; request women transfer to Scarborough for planned induction and an increased frequency of diverting women in labour to alternative hospitals.”

A statement from the trust said: “Patient safety is our priority and our staff work hard to ensure this is not compromised.  Many maternity units are facing recruitment issues, and recruiting sufficient numbers of midwives has been challenging.  

“We have plans in place to increase midwife numbers, including recruiting from overseas. We have also increased the number of support staff working in maternity, for example healthcare assistants, who can provide additional support and release time for midwives to provide care. 

“We take all concerns seriously and welcome feedback however it is raised with us. Our midwives do an incredibly important job and they continue to provide support and care for patients in spite of the pressure they are facing.”