UNSAFE levels of staffing at Colchester Hospital's maternity department meant some mothers and babies were put at risk, a watchdog has found.

Independent regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited maternity services at Colchester and Ipswich hospitals in March and April this year after six staff raised concerns about staffing, leadership, incident management and culture.

Rating the services as Requires Improvement, the CQC urged the East Suffolk and North Essex Trust to make a number of improvements on its maternity wards.

The watchdog found Colchester Hospital's maternity unit was short-staffed for nurses for months, with a 33 per cent unexpected absence rate for midwives.

Inspectors found the service "did not always have enough staff to care for women and keep them safe".

The report found there was: "Sustained periods of reduced staffing and issues with the management of the maternity triage system" and the "process for induction of labour impacted on staff wellbeing and their confidence in keeping themselves and women and babies safe".

It added: "Staff were not always compliant with important training, for example, sepsis and safeguarding training to protect women from harm or abuse.

"Medicines where not always stored correctly and there were gaps in emergency equipment checks.

"The service had been without a clear strategy with aligned governance processes. Staff were unclear about their roles and responsibilities as a result.

"Staff did not always feel respected, supported and valued by the trust and the leadership teams.

"The was a lack of oversight from the trust board and the senior leadership team, with delays in managing and implementing timely actions despite the known ongoing concerns."

During the inspection some staff on Colchester Hospital's maternity ward were said to be "burnt out and some tearful".

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Despite the concerns, the CQC said women were supported at the units by committed workers.

Services were rated good for being effective, caring and responsive to people's needs.

However, they were rated requires improvement for safety and being well-led.

The overall rating of requires improvement has dropped from the previous inspection.


Chief executive Nick Hulme said: “We accept the CQC’s findings and have already taken action to improve our staffing levels, leadership and processes to ensure patient safety.

“We are investing in recruitment for our maternity services, and are pleased that a new expert senior midwife will be joining us shortly to lead our service, with an additional 30 midwives due to join us over the next few months.”

The trust is also set to invest £1.4 million in its maternity services with ten midwives a month joining from July onwards.

You can read the full report here.