Labour backs calls for maternity inquiry into Nottingham Hospital as trust reveals widespread staff shortages
Nottingham University Hospitals Trust is still battling to fill 70 vacancies for midwives on its wards as Labour backs calls for an inquiry into poor care and deaths at the trust.
The East Midlands trust, where maternity services are rated inadequate by the care watchdog, has told The Independent it is trying to fill staffing gaps in its two maternity units to improve the safety of mothers and babies.
Dozens of babies have died or been left with brain damage at the trust, which has faced criticism from families for not properly investigating deaths or being honest with them about mistakes in their care.
An investigation by The Independent found managers at the trust were labelled a “Teflon team” who ignored pleas from staff about midwife shortages.
Concerns about safety and staff shortages at the trust have been raised repeatedly in recent years, with staff writing a letter to the trust board over their fears about 35 vacancies. When the Care Quality Commission investigated the trust last year it found there were 73 vacant posts.
Now Nottingham University Hospitals Trust has confirmed it still has 70 full-time vacancies for midwives, after a review of staffing found numbers of midwives were too low and needed to increase by at least 61 to keep mothers and babies safe. It currently employs 501 midwives.
Since October, 37 new midwives have been recruited with 57 offers made to other midwives so far this year. The trust said it expected a large group to start in the coming months. It is also recruiting seven new obstetric consultants.
But it faces a struggle to fill roles with a national shortage of at least 2,000 midwives across the NHS. In line with many hospitals, it is recruiting from Europe and Africa.
Where there are existing gaps in staffing, the trust said it was offering overtime to staff and using agency midwives.
Jack Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet died as a result of avoidable errors at the trust in April 2016, said: “We are pleased to hear this though very sad it needed this current attention. It’s bad that other babies died and came to harm before the trust chose to act.
“We recognise very well the debate around safe staffing. However please no one think this is the only solution.
“The behaviours and action by the trust board when we went to them about Harriet reveal a sick culture they still need to recognise and address.”
Labour’s shadow health minister Alex Norris, MP for Nottingham North, has backed families calling for an inquiry into maternity care at the trust and has urged new health secretary Sajid Javid to urgently meet with families. The Department of Health and Social Care has not responded to requests for comment.
Mr Norris was one of four MPs who twice wrote to Matt Hancock this year with concerns about maternity services at the trust – but they were still awaiting a response by the time he was forced to resign over an affari with an aide.
Mr Norris said the revelations about the trust’s maternity care were “extremely troubling.”
He added: “Local members of Parliament have been seeking to meet the secretary of state to press for a public inquiry but have been ignored.
“Labour support the parents’ calls and urge the secretary of state to meet with them at the first possible opportunity.”
In the last seven days, as revelations about poor care were reported, the trust has advertised 18 new maternity and obstetric roles on the NHS Jobs website, including for a new head of midwifery.
The trust said this was part of its normal rolling recruitment which had started in September 2020.
The trust will have two heads of midwifery to cover both the City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre sites. A new director of midwifery has also been appointed.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “We’ve already taken significant steps to improve recruitment and retention and are committed to further increasing our staffing levels in maternity.
“We will endeavour to continue recruiting until all vacancies have been filled, and our staff will continue working tirelessly to improve services for local women and families.”