The Daily Telegraph

Mothers at risk in ‘Russian roulette’ NHS, say midwives

- By Rosie Taylor

THE lives of mothers and babies are being put at risk in a maternity culture so toxic that it feels like a “game of Russian roulette”, midwives have warned.

A report by front-line staff described “endemic” bullying and “dangerousl­y low” staffing levels, which meant that women in labour were treated as if they were “on a conveyor belt”.

Maternity units “often” had less than half the number of staff needed to operate safely and unqualifie­d students were left to look after multiple women on postnatal or labour wards.

Midwives said they were given so many patients to care for they often did not have enough time to complete basic care tasks, such as giving women painkiller­s or properly sterilisin­g equipment, putting patients at risk of infection.

The report by a team of leading midwives and midwifery academics featured the experience­s of hundreds of midwives who are working in or have recently left NHS services.

Many had witnessed babies harmed as a result of their “unfathomab­le” working conditions, describing a “toxic culture” in maternity services. One said that working in maternity units in the

UK was like “playing a warped game of Russian roulette and just praying the tragedy doesn’t occur on your shift or with a person you’ve been caring for after you’ve gone off shift”.

Mavis Kirkham, emeritus professor of midwifery at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Twenty years ago [it was] reported how midwives were leaving midwifery because they could not give the care they wished to give. Things have got so much worse.”

She said “care has been squeezed out in the interests of efficiency” and that the service was “run on a conveyor belt model”. The authors blamed staff shortages and pressures on midwives from senior management to discharge mothers and babies as quickly as possible.

It follows a call from families for a statutory public inquiry into England’s maternity services. The request, made by the Maternity Safety Alliance, followed reports of poor care and toxic cultures in maternity services at NHS trusts.

A spokesman for the Royal College of Midwives said “poor organisati­onal culture” was a key factor in maternity unit failings. A spokesman for NHS England said it was making “necessary improvemen­ts” and it was “unacceptab­le for any member of staff to feel silenced”.

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