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Women and babies remain at risk of unsafe NHS care, experts warn | Health

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A shortage of more than 2,000 midwives means women and babies will remain at risk of dangerous care in the NHS despite an investigation into the biggest maternity scandal in its history, health officials have warned.

A landmark NHS trust review of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital, led by maternity expert Donna Ockenden, will release its final findings on Wednesday with important implications for maternity care across the UK.

The inquiry, which looked at more than 1,800 cases over two decades, is expected to conclude that hundreds of babies have died or been left severely disabled due to mistakes made by the NHS trust, and calls for change.

But NHS and midwifery officials said they fear a growing shortage of NHS maternity staff means trusts may not be able to meet the new standards set out in the report.

“I am deeply concerned when senior managers say they cannot meet the recommendations of the Ockenden review which are essential to ensuring that women and babies receive the safest possible maternity care,” said Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). .

The number of midwives fell to 26,901, according to NHS England figures released last month, from 27,272 a year ago. The MRC says the downsizing comes on top of an existing shortage of more than 2,000 employees.

Experts said the shortage is due to the NHS struggling to attract new midwives while losing existing staff who feel overworked and fed up with being spread too thinly across maternity wards.

Last week the NHS announced a £127m funding increase for maternity services aimed at improving care for mothers and babies, including £50m allocated to trusts over the next two years to increase the number of maternity and neonatal services.

But Walton expressed concern that with the shortage of midwives, the recruitment and retention crisis would not be resolved overnight.

“We have midwives from top to bottom and bottom to top telling us how bad the situation is,” she said. “Obviously we welcome additional funding, but there are too many questions about how it will be used to recruit and, just as importantly, retain the staff we need. The government needs to get its head out of the sand and fix this problem urgently. »

Deputy chief executive of NHS providers Saffron Cordery said hospital leaders had expressed concern that staff shortages would hamper efforts to improve maternity services.

“In our recent survey, a number of trusted leaders told us that shortages in midwifery services are a major concern,” Cordery said. “It is obviously worrying that some have had to close services due to labor shortages and we know that trusted leaders are concerned that they will not be able to recruit to the standards set out in the upcoming Ockenden report. due to these shortcomings.

Lawyers representing families affected by the Shrewsbury maternity scandal said it was essential that the recommendations made in the report be implemented as soon as possible.

Tim Annett, medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Sadly, we continue to hear incredibly disturbing first-hand accounts from families concerned about their maternity care, not just in Shrewsbury and Telford, but across other trusts.

“Too often in the past, we have seen hospital care reviews and surveys make recommendations that have taken years to implement. This report should not be shelved after publication – it is crucial that the details are analyzed and lessons learned to improve maternity safety, which must remain a priority for the NHS.