Maternity services at Stoke Mandeville Hospital must improve says health watchdog

Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. Credit: PA
Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said that patient safety was a "priority" and that action is "already underway" to address the issues raised. Credit: PA

A new report into maternity services at Stoke Mandeville Hospital shows families who had lost babies were able to hear newborns crying and families celebrating from the bereavement suite.

Staff were also made to feel "unsafe" because of staffing levels.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited the Aylesbury hospital in June and published its findings on 25 October. The health watchdog says the services must improve.

Some aspects of safety at the hospital "require improvement", inspector Carolyn Jenkinson wrote in her report.

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said that patient safety was a "priority" and that action is "already underway" to address the issues raised.

The inspection highlighted issues with the layout and design of maternity wards, which were "not always suitable for the services provided".

Ms Jenkinson's team said this included the dedicated bereavement suite for families who had lost babies.

She wrote: "This was not ideal, as bereaved families might have been able to hear babies cry and families celebrating.

"Birthing rooms and other clinical areas were spacious, but triage was very small and congested.

"The space limitations created trip hazards because equipment wires fell on the floor between each bed space."

Meanwhile, the environment in triage made it "impossible" to maintain confidentiality during phone calls and conversations, the report found.

The inspection team said they overheard all conversations, including people's names and dates of birth despite staff closing the curtains across beds.

The report said: "It was also not possible for staff to discuss sensitive information such as safeguarding concerns in confidence.

"This meant safety could be compromised. However, leaders had recently introduced a designated waiting area for those needing initial assessment as part of the triage improvement plan."

Bays of beds were also found to be cramped, with curtains not hung properly, meaning "privacy could be affected".

The inspection team also said they were "concerned about the high temperature on Rothschild Ward".

The report read: "When we visited the temperature was 28C at 9am and 31C by the afternoon. This was despite the use of four portable air-conditioning units.

"One woman told us they had moved from a very hot bay and were more comfortable since they had been provided with a portable fan."

Stoke Mandeville Hospital Credit: ITV News Meridian

Inspectors also escalated concerns about the storage of breast milk to the matron after several undated samples of breast milk were found, including one that was three months old.

Another of the main concerns found was that the service had "high vacancy and sickness rates", with 11 midwives having left the service six months before the inspection.

The report read: "Staff told us low numbers of staff made them feel unsafe and sickness rates were increasing as staff became more stressed."

Despite the concerns, Stoke Mandeville's maternity services were praised for staff's understanding of how to protect women from abuse, control of infections and staff morale.

Neil Macdonald, Chief Executive of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, said: "The safety of those using our services is our priority and there are a number of actions required to make the necessary improvements."

He said plans were underway to improve maternity triage, staffing levels and equipment at Stoke Mandeville, which retains its overall CQC rating of 'Good'.

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