NHS asked to address maternity unit staffing issues

Arbroath Infirmary
Arbroath Infirmary

The issue of overnight maternity staffing at Arbroath Infirmary is to be raised at Holyrood today (Friday) by Angus South MSP Graeme Dey.

Last Tuesday Mr Dey raised his concerns in a speech to the Scottish Parliament and is expected to discuss rural NHS staffing issues, particularly midwifery, with NHS Tayside chair John Connell.

Overnight midwife cover is now on a call-out basis rather than full-time and, according to Mr Dey, it appears that recruitment seems to be a problem.

He said: “NHS Tayside’s document, “The 2020 Vision for Health and Social Care in Scotland”, talks about ensuring that services are readily available in rural settings. However, talking the talk must be followed by walking the walk. And there have been a series of problems around staffing now.

“Recruitment for the Mulberry Mental Health Unit at Stracathro and the maternity unit in Montrose is apparently problematic. Now overnight provision for new admissions in Arbroath is being put on a call out footing. It appears there is a recruitment or workforce planning issue here requiring to be addressed.

“I am told that there is a general problem around newly qualified staff who, having done their training in shiny and busy modern facilities, find the older traditional service models that exist in too many rural areas to be comparatively unattractive, although of course the Strachathro facility was built relatively recently.

“I understand that recent efforts by NHS Tayside to recruit a number of new midwives met with only very limited success, contributing to the temporary closure of Montrose to new births and may perhaps be a factor in what has happened in Arbroath.

“Whatever lies behind this NHS Tayside must find a means to tackle it otherwise, apart from anything, fears that services are being run down will grow.

“As I said in Parliament last week, NHS Tayside must, with all possible Government support, find a way to overcome the problem it seems to have with rural recruitment. What are other boards doing? What best practice examples are out there that they might follow?

“The NHS nationally now boasts almost 60,000 midwives—4.6 per cent more than there were in 2006 yet – there appears in Tayside to be problem attracting staff in sufficient numbers to support rural provision. That needs looking at.”

Head of Midwifery for NHS Tayside, Justine Craig, said: “Our midwife teams work really hard to support women throughout their pregnancy journey and the safety and care of women and babies will always be their primary concern. We want to reassure women that this remains the case in Angus and midwives are committed to continue to deliver the highest quality of service for mums and mums-to-be.

“The Arbroath Community Midwifery Unit is not closed overnight. It is open for labour, birth and inpatient postnatal care when women need it, which means that when a woman is in labour or has given birth, they will be cared for in Arbroath, regardless of the time of day or night. To be clear, from 9am to 5pm that care will be provided by midwives who are at the unit every day and from 5pm to 9am two midwives will attend the unit together to care for any women who are already inpatients or any woman who goes into labour.

“NHS Tayside had to make the difficult decision last week to temporarily close Montrose Community Maternity Unit for births due to ongoing staffing shortages. Our Montrose maternity team and other support staff are now working out of the Community Maternity Unit at Arbroath Infirmary for births, alongside the Arbroath maternity team. Antenatal and postnatal care is being delivered as usual at Montrose during the day.

“The Montrose midwives have been in touch with all women who are affected by this temporary change to ensure that arrangements are clear and to reassure them over the temporary change and what it means for them.

“This temporary change to the service will ensure that all aspects of pregnancy, labour and birth, as well as postnatal care, can continue to be provided to the highest standard and will still offer women the choice of labour and birth in a Community Midwife Unit in Angus. It will also ensure continuity of care, which has been shown to be vitally important to improve outcomes for mums and babies.

“On rare occasions in the past, women have been diverted overnight to either Montrose or Arbroath, but this has only been in exceptional circumstances to ensure the safety of mums and babies, which is paramount.

“Staff who have left the service have been replaced where possible, however recruitment of midwives remains challenging. In recognition of national workforce issues, student midwife numbers have been increased and NHS Tayside has plans in place for the active recruitment of graduates.”