The 16 failings highlighted in a critical inspection of maternity services at Bedford Hospital suggest “an underlying malaise”, a meeting heard.
Its Cygnet ward maternity services were downgraded to ‘inadequate’ after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found a “potential risk for baby abduction”.
The CQC report was prompted by 14 whistleblower inquiries between August and its visit in November.
Much of the focused response has centred around staffing issues, according to chief executive of Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust David Carter.
Patient outcomes remain good, he told Central Bedfordshire Council’s social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee.
Independent Ampthill councillor Mark Smith said: “Similar reports since 2015 lead me to wonder my why some of these issues haven’t been addressed before.
“I counted 16 failings found by the CQC. It’s a fair amount. It says consultants need to ensure they’re present to respond in a timely fashion, which wasn’t happening.
“We’re talking about two people’s lives here, the mother and child, and I find that one particularly shocking.”
Mr Carter explained: “The two reports in 2015 and 2018 were the unit ‘requires improvement’. The current rating is even worse, ‘inadequate’.
“The hospital was trying to address issues in the unit, but for whatever reason it hasn’t been successful.
“One of the difficulties for Bedford as a small unit was to find those clinical leaders.
“We’ve got new leadership in place, which gives us a fresh start. We’ve strengthened the number of hours on the units.
“We’re confident the timeliness of the medical staff in response to emergency events isn’t a problem.”
Conservative Ampthill councillor Paul Duckett warned: “The key indicator on staff is the high turnover and double the rate of sickness.
“So there’s obviously something fundamentally wrong in how the department’s operating really.
“And there are the instances of not checking things properly which aren’t good practice or standard behaviour.
“What are the issues causing complete weakness among the personnel that they’re not fulfilling functions, as there’s an underlying malaise there?” he asked.
Mr Carter replied: “It’s a cultural problem. You need staff to have wellbeing within that department.
“For whatever reason, staff haven’t felt they’ve been in an environment which is supportive and to my disappointment felt the need to go outside the organisation.
“We’ve whistleblowing policies and freedom to speak up guardians, all sorts of mechanisms. It’s not just about finding some more midwives.
“We’re trying to ensure staff feel listened to and that we do look after their wellbeing.
“We’re dealing with the highest risk situation to do with that mother and child,” he added.
“It’s an incredibly stressful situation in a delivery unit if you don’t feel supported.
“It’s not led to poor outcomes, but that doesn’t lead us into complacency.”
Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion, who chairs the committee, wondered when the CQC is expected to return.
Mr Carter said: “The CQC hasn’t set a date yet. What it doesn’t want to do is come back when we haven’t had a chance to embed some of the work we’re doing.
“We anticipate they’ll be back within the next 12 months, but it’s uncertain. There’s an on-going monitoring process.”