Mother felt her pregnancy was 'ticking time bomb' as 73% of maternity units now failing

Pregnancy can be nerve inducing at the best of times, but with almost three quarters of maternity units across the North East and North Yorkshire now substandard, there are calls for change.

Since 2022, the Care quality Commission has re-inspected maternity units across the country, and the results paint a picture of declining care.

In England almost half of maternity services are substandard (49%). Of 15 units in the North East and North Yorkshire that have been re-inspected so far, almost 3 quarters are failing (73%).

Durham, Darlington, Scarborough and York were handed the lowest rating of inadequate in the latest round of visits.

The RVI in Newcastle, James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough and Sunderland Royal are among the other local hospitals told to make improvements.

In their state of care report, the CQC said the overarching picture is one of a service and staff under huge pressure.

Philippa was admitted to Darlington Memorial Hospital when her waters broke at 19-weeks pregnant. Credit: Family Photo

One of those who felt their level of care fell short, was Philippa Elliot from Darlington. Her waters broke at just 19 weeks pregnant.

She was admitted to Darlington Memorial Hospital, but told she couldn’t have a scan, as no ultrasound specialists on shift.

She was left for days, not knowing if her baby was alive.

Philippa said: "It was only on day three, when I was about to be discharged that one of the doctors came and asked ‘has anybody scanned you?’ and I said 'no, apparently you haven’t got any ultrasound specialists in over the weekend'.

"The doctor said that he is not a specialist but could scan me and tell me if there was fluid. He scanned, there was fluid there so we left and transferred care to James Cook."

"It was terrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I did in those three days. It was awful. At that point, I didn’t even know if she was still alive."

The advice from doctors at Darlington Memorial Hospital, was to terminate the pregnancy. Reluctant to give up hope, Philippa and her husband researched alternative options.

They found NHS guidelines that suggested there are cases where, with close monitoring, pregnancies can continue, with a positive outcome.

She said: "I can’t imagine how I would feel now if I had terminated and then realised it might have been ok.”

Philippa transferred to James Cook in Middlesbrough. Under their care, she carried Baby Ivy until 28 weeks. Credit: Family Photo

Following this experience at Darlington, Philippa transferred to James Cook in Middlesbrough. Under their care, she carried Baby Ivy Hope until 28 weeks.

She was born premature, but healthy.

Noel Scanlon, Executive Director of Nursing and Midwifery at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We are committed to providing high quality, compassionate care to all women and families. We sincerely apologise to any family who has felt let down by their experience in our care and we take these matters seriously.

"We recognise that our maternity services are facing pressures and have been open and transparent in acknowledging these but also in sharing our commitment to continuous improvement."

The Trust says it has taken steps to make improvements, to ensure a high level of care is provided to all patients.

The statement went on to say: "Over the past 12 months, we have worked closely with our dedicated teams to make many improvements. In particular, we continue to actively recruit to staffing vacancies and recently welcomed a new Director of Midwifery to the Trust and a second Head of Midwifery.

"We are dedicated to listening, learning, and continually improving the quality of care and experience we are offering our women and families.”

73% of North East and North Yorkshire maternity units are now substandard. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Dr Bill Kirkup has led inquiries into services elsewhere in the country, including Jimmy Savile’s involvement at Broadmoor Hospital and failings at Morecambe Bay Maternity Services.

He says the latest CQC ratings are further proof that there are systemic issues.

Dr Kirkup said: "There are problems particularly with professional culture, around compassion and listening and team working and there are problems around the reaction that people have where there is a serious safety incident. It needs looking at, it needs investigating.

"Of course mistakes happen but the things shouldn't keep happening year after year. These are widespread problems and we need to work on how we can change that."

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