Hospital chiefs have committed themselves to keeping and improving maternity services in Bedford.
The service was rated inadequate following a Care Quality Commission (CQC) unannounced visit on 5 November which identified a risk that a baby could be abducted, among other problems.
A meeting yesterday (19 April 2021) heard that employee trust with management that had become so poor that staff made 14 whistle-blower complaints to the CQC rather than speak to bosses.
Cllr Hilde Hendrickx (Lib Dem, Newnham) asked why issues identified by the CQC in 2018 had not been acted on.
“They should have been picked up by the leadership; why didn’t that happen?” she asked at the health overview and scrutiny committee.
Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive David Carter, who took up the role when Bedford and Luton and Dunstable Hospital merged in April 2020, said he “can’t speak for before April 2020“.
He said the trust had been aware of some concerns but was “reassured by good outcomes“. Pregnant mums had been happy with the service.
Looking forward he said the merger offers the chance to “help move on to a much more positive future.”
The trust has new maternity leaders in place and Mr Carter said it is committed to Bedford. It is “key to the future of us as an organisation and we want it to be outstanding“.
Trust chief nurse Liz Lees said the CQC had visited not because of any clinical incident but following “staff concerns“.
The unit had been hit hard by staff shortages which they say they are dealing with. They have regular meetings with the CQC to stay on track.
They are also trying to build up trust with staff. She said that “takes time“.
Emma Hardwick, the trust’s new director of midwifery, said they have a shortlist of 35 student midwives to fill up to 15 posts.
Tara Pauley, in her third week as Bedford’s head of midwifery, said new swipe card security measures have been put in place. And “teams are very aware of the need to check and challenge” visitors.
Mr Carter said he was “disappointed” with the inadequate rating because of the unit’s relatively low child mortality rates and good feedback from mums.
“The unit was in a good place before the CQC,” he insisted, but they are using the rating as a “lever for change” and now they want to “strive for outstanding“.
Cllr Graeme Coombes (Cons, Wilshamstead) asked for assurance that the current leadership can achieve what the previous chiefs hadn’t.
Mr Carter said they would be held accountable by the CQC, the hospital’s quality committee, its own trust governors and its own focus.
Actions required in the wake of the Ockenden report into baby deaths in Shropshire also added impetus.
“The failures were because of culture and trust in leadership but our relationship with mothers is good,” he said.
“I want to look forward to the next CQC.”
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) said: “I am glad to hear that there is no doubt hanging over the service.”