‘Truly shocking’ picture of maternity services – CQC

Maternity care is “just not good enough”, the CQC has warned.

The Maternity survey 2013 found that while there had been many improvements in care, a quarter of mothers were left alone at a point that worried them during labour.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) called it “deeply disappointing”.

The survey also showed that one in five mothers felt their concerns were not taken seriously. Some women also felt “bullied” into breastfeeding, and reported experiences of poor pain management.

But more women felt involved in decisions about their care than in 2010, and 78% had confidence and trust in staff.

CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, said: “This survey is important because it tells us what is important to women, what they feel is working and what needs to improve.

“I’m encouraged there are improvements but in too many cases, the quality of care delivered is just not good enough. Women and their partners are being left alone when it worries them, toilets and wards are described as unclean and some women are not given the pain relief they had expected or planned to use in their birth plan.

“Further findings of note include those about continuity of care, these suggest to me that women do not mind seeing different midwives if the information and messages they receive is consistent.

“Feedback in the comments given to us show at times, a truly shocking picture of experiences that should be the most joyous time in a woman’s life, not the most frightening.”

Cathy Warwick, the Royal College of Midwives’ chief executive said: “We welcome evidence of improvements in women’s experience of maternity care since 2010, but there are worrying findings, too. It is sad to see that in three years the NHS has not improved in terms of women seeing the same midwife during their care, which often means women have to repeat their histories over and over again.

“This third survey shows that the NHS continues to fail too many women. It sets out yet more evidence of the real-life and disheartening effects on women of the shortage of midwives. How many more flashing red lights do we need? I am deeply disappointed about the high proportion of women who were left alone and worry about this during early labour. It is sad, too, that vital postnatal care is a focus for women’s criticisms. We urgently need to change these things.

“The RCM’s latest estimate is that the NHS in England is short of 4,800 midwives, so it is sadly inevitable that women will see many different midwives, but it does not have to be this way. We are seeing some action to bring this shortage down, but those efforts need to be redoubled if we are to see fewer women have a negative experience of what should be amongst the happiest moments of their lives. Maternity care is the earliest health intervention of them all and getting it right for mothers, babies and parents is an important part of supporting families and building good health for later in life.”

And Dr Peter Carter, chief executive & general secretary of the RCN said: “Open and honest feedback is essential, and trusts should use this survey, along with ongoing feedback from women and their families to help keep making improvements to care.

“It is promising to see improvements in a number of areas such as keeping women involved in decisions about their care and having trust in the staff providing their care, which is so important.

“However these results make it clear that there are still challenges to be met in maternity services, and it is particularly concerning that more women were left alone at a time that worried them during their birth than in 2010. This is unfortunately likely to be the result of a shortage of midwives to deal with the increasing birthrate, and this is something which much be looked at urgently.”

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