'I was completely unsupported': Former midwife at Kent Hospitals claims staff were overworked

  • ITV Meridian's Joe Coshan has spoken exclusively to a former midwife who worked at East Kent Hospitals

A former midwife who worked at hospitals across East Kent has told ITV News Meridian she wishes she could meet the women she failed to care for to find out how they felt about their experience.

'Jane' worked in maternity and neonatal services at hospitals across the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.

She revealed that she feels many of the families they let down was due to a dangerous lack of staff. Her revelations come on the day the Kirkup report is finally released.

The inquiry, led by Dr Bill Kirkup is set to reveal the findings of a damning report into the care provided to women and babies at three Kent hospitals - the William Harvey in Ashford, the Queen Mary the Queen Mother in Margate and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

Jane says her and her colleagues were overworked and when she wanted to highlight failings to management, they were dismissive and unapproachable.

We've changed her name and her voice to protect her identity.

  • 'Jane' tells ITV Meridian about her first experience as a midwife.

"I remember my first shift, it was a night shift, as a newly qualified band five and I was asked to look after a couple who were having a therapeutic termination.

"I had to sit with the lady who was delivering a 26 week old on my very first shift.

"I was completely unsupported.

"They do try and instil it in you as a student, that you have to have a lot of support at home, because there are going to be times when you keep it all in because it's not your grief.

Jane said she arrived for her first shift and was given a handover at 7:30pm in the evening.

"We could see on the handover sheet that someone was occupying the room, and I was told by the sister in charge that I had been allocated that room because 'I had to start somewhere.'

  • 'Jane' admits midwifes were under pressure to look after too many patients

"I sat there just gobsmacked. I didn't know how to answer.

"I really couldn't say no because I'm a bit 'face it and do it.'

"I started to dread every shift, because you just worried about what you were going to be allocated.

Jane says she and many of her colleagues tried to approach management at the hospital about the staff shortages, but they were always told that the situation was being dealt with.

She said staff were sent on mandatory training and were given a number of study days, but that it didn't help the situation on the wards.

'Jane' said one midwife could be responsible for up to 10 or 11 women and their babies.

Jane says it was impossible to offer expectant mothers one-to-one care, and reveals it was often three women to one midwife on the labour ward.

She says the problem was exacerbated because on every shift at least one person was off sick because of the pressures of the job.

Exclusive figures obtained by ITV News Meridian through a Freedom of Information request found 308 members of staff working in maternity at East Kent Hospitals have been signed off on long-term sick leave since 2011.

Almost a third of those - 108 - were due to mental health illnesses.

And shockingly, on post-labour wards, Jane claims one midwife could be responsible for looking after up to ten or eleven women and their babies.

"I've had to call in the matron, who, very reluctantly came in. She basically said 'if you can't do it you're not cut out for the job.'

"But I'm one person who can't be in two rooms."

"You have to make the decision of who needs me the most in that split second. It's hard, because you're constantly thinking about the woman you're not looking after, while you're in the room with the woman you are looking after.

"You're still not focusing on that one woman - it's very very challenging.

"I just wish I could meet some people who I have failed to care for, through the complete exhaustion or the lack of staffing - I wish I could just sit down with them and do an 'after-thoughts'.

"Because they are the most important people in the room at that point.

"It breaks my heart that they are not being cared for in that way. I left the profession knowing it wasn't for any reason other than I couldn't really give the care that I truly wanted.

  • 'Jane' left her job as a midwife as she said things didn't improve

"You're looking after too many women at one point, lines get blurred and there's not enough of us to go round," Jane added.

"It's not what I went into the job for.

"You just can't do the job to the best of your ability, and that's what we all strive to do at the end of the day.

Jane chose to leave her role as a midwife for personal reasons, but said the pressures of her job contributed to her decision.

Jane revealed that debriefs were rarely held after an emergency or serious incident. "The management never sat with you and said 'you did this well' or 'this is what we could improve on in the future.' It was just 'well done, see you later.'" she said.

Jane maintains that if a major medical incident takes place, the protocol is to always have a team debrief.

"It's just good practice," Jane added. "But even if we said we needed to just talk about what happened yesterday for example, it just never happened.

"How do you know where you're going wrong if you haven't got that support."

Jane delivered hundreds of healthy babies while working for the trust.

In response to Jane's allegations, in a statement, Sarah Shingler, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for East Kent Hospitals said: “We apologise unreservedly to the families we have failed.

“We have worked hard to improve our service and in the last year have funded 38 more midwives and a further 11 specialist midwife posts, have made it easier for staff to raise any concerns and have strengthened the mental health and well-being support for staff. We have also appointed a clinical placement facilitator to support our newly qualified midwives.

“We have improved the ‘line of sight’ between Board and ward, and now offer follow-up calls with every family six weeks after birth to listen to and act on their feedback.

“We know there is more work to do.

"We are grateful to all those who have shared their experiences as part of Dr Bill Kirkup’s investigation and will use those findings to continue driving forward the necessary improvements to ensure we are delivering the high-quality care we and our patients expect.” 

Asked if it is safe to give birth in an East Kent hospital, Jane said: "No.

"I work with somebody who is still involved in the trust.

"Some things never change."

Jane says she wouldn't want to give birth at a hospital run by the trust, and she wouldn't want her daughter to either.