CQC finds 'inadequate' maternity services at two County Durham hospitals improve

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The University Hospital North Durham, along with the Darlington Memorial Hospital, was issued a warning notice by CQC after their previous inspection in March last year. Credit: PA

A health regulator has found maternity services at two County Durham hospitals have improved - but more work needs to be done.

Units at the University of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital have had their rating upgraded by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), from 'inadequate' to 'requires improvement'.

Inspectors visited the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust's sites following a warning notice issued by the CQC after its previous inspection in March last year.

The latest inspection, in January, was an unannounced visit to both units during which the CQC judged the hospitals had met the terms of the warning notice, which has now been removed.

Despite improvements, the CQC found the trust needed to continue to improve in a number of areas.

It said that although there was now a process for documenting arrival times for those attending triage, new systems within the triage unit were not yet fully embedded.

It was also found that staff did not always complete environmental and emergency equipment safety checks in accordance with the trust policy.

Finally, staff did not always ensure medicines and sterile consumable items were always stored, managed, and replaced before their expiry dates. This was not in accordance with the trust's policy and best practice guidance.

Linda Hirst, CQC deputy director of operations for the north, said: “Leaders were now more visible and approachable for staff, and a new director of midwifery had been appointed, therefore we expect to see further improvements next time we visit.

“We found improvements with the management of incidents. For example, we reviewed four serious incidents and found the service now implemented much better action plans in response to investigating findings.

"This ensured lessons were learnt and women, people using the service and their babies were receiving safer care as a result."

Credit: PA

She continued: “There had also been some improvements around staffing and ongoing recruitment. However, both services didn’t always have enough senior, experienced midwives on labour wards which needs to be addressed as a priority.

“We did have some other areas of concern including timely inductions of labour to meet people’s needs, which weren’t always happening at either hospital. Although oversight of these delays had improved, new processes put in place to improve them weren’t fully embedded yet."

The CQC added that staff had clearly worked hard since their inspection in March 2023, and they know further improvements were needed.

Improvements found at both hospitals:

  • Staff understood how to protect women and people using the service from abuse. Staff assessed risks to people, acted on them and kept good care records.

  • The service now had enough cardiotocograph equipment and staff were trained to use it.

  • There was improved incident reporting, and quicker actions and systems were now in place to improve staff learning.

  • Leaders and staff had strengthened their engagement with people, staff, equality groups, and local organisations to plan and manage services.

As well as maternity services, the rating for how safe and well-led the services were for both University Hospital of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital had improved from inadequate to requires improvement.

It means the overall rating for both hospitals has improved from requires improvement to good. It means the trust remains rated as good overall.

The County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust will continue to be monitored through future inspections.

The trust said: "The new rating is a positive step forward on its continuing improvement journey and that it will use feedback to work towards future improvements.

"The new rating is a positive step forward, and our dedicated teams have implemented robust measures to enhance the safety, quality, and experience of our maternity services.

"We remain fully aware that there is still work to be done and have already begun to deliver on an action plan with defined timescales and measurable improvements.

"Our aim is to ensure that every family feels supported, empowered, and safe throughout their maternity journey.”

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