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‘Ideologically driven’ NHSE maternity model causing national tension

A policy ‘at the heart’ of NHS England’s efforts to improve maternity care is under question after being sharply criticised by an independent inquiry, and is the subject of major tensions within NHSE and midwifery, HSJ understands.

The Ockenden report into major care failings at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust included 15 “immediate actions” for all maternity services in England, which government has accepted and said it would begin implementation.

However, one of these relates to the “continuity of carer” model, which NHS England has championed since 2017, when it was described as “at the heart of” its national plans for improving maternity care and outcomes.

The model intends to give women “dedicated support” from the same midwifery team throughout their pregnancy, with claimed benefits including improved outcomes, with a particular focus on some minority groups.

However, Ms Ockenden indicated its implementation in recent years had stretched staffing, and therefore harmed quality and safety overall, and also appeared to question whether the model was evidenced.

Some midwifery leaders are advocates for the model, but others have described how it can result in awful working patterns, with concerns it is causing some staff to leave the profession.

Royal College of Midwives director for professional midwifery Mary Ross-Davie told HSJ: “With the right resources and the right number of midwives, CoC can have a positive impact on maternity care – but in too many trusts and boards this is simply not the situation. We are really pleased, therefore, to see that the review team has echoed the RCM’s recommendations around the suspension of continuity of carer where too few staff puts safe deployment at risk.”

She said the model was “something to which many maternity services aspire, particularly for women who need enhanced monitoring throughout their pregnancy to deliver better outcomes for them and their baby”.

Helen Hughes, chief executive of Patient Safety Learning charity, said that although it had heard positive feedback that the model can improve outcomes, there must also be a “robust assessment of the safety impact of implementing such changes and the sources and staffing in place to deliver this”.

“Otherwise the core intentions and benefits will be lost,” Ms Hughes said.

Read full story (paywalled)

Source: HSJ, 31 March 2022

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