Health, safety and escalating risk

By Lesley Wood, RCM Health and Safety Advisor on 29 June 2021 Maternity Services Safety Covid-19 coronavirus

In our own units and in our teams, we have our ways of assessing risk and improving our maternity services. However, when faced with a global pandemic we took to much larger collective ways of assessing risk, applying national guidance and we collaborated with other maternity teams up and down the country when it came to national health and safety needs. With some time to reflect, I wanted to share the good practice and the power of communication across our services. 

In March, we reached out to RCM health and safety representatives (H&S reps) and Chief Executives of NHS Trusts across England, for assurance and evidence that health and safety regulations were carried out over the past year and since the beginning of the pandemic. This was supported by Directors and Heads of Midwifery, who had raised concerns around compliance with NHS guidance on supporting partners attending women using maternity services.

Among over 130 responses, we received many positive examples of risk assessments, communication with staff and women and CO2 monitoring for CO2 flow testing.

Today, we expect individual NHS Trusts to follow the guidelines NHS England/Improvement released in April. However, members have recently reported concerns regarding an increase in number of visitors or birth partners during labour, and the implied increased risk of COVID-19. Decisions around increasing visiting should be made by the employer following a robust risk assessment. H&S reps can raise the concern if this applicable in their Trust, bringing members’ concerns to the attention of management, and ask to see the risk assessment and. We are also contacting PHE to request clarity regarding the use of FFP3 masks when women have a positive COVID-19 test result, including the lateral flow tests.

As well as looking back, we can learn from current practices supporting women around advice and guidance on the COVID-19 vaccine. You can see Wirral University Hospital’s positive use of social media and sharing information around visiting and vaccines and more on the vaccine and pregnancy in our most recent webinar.  

Learning lessons from both failed and successful maternity services is also crucial to ensure mistakes are not repeated and good practice is shared. We can apply the same attitude to learning from the pandemic to everything we do. The RCM recently launched its second publication in the new Solution Series, aimed at supporting maternity staff to implement recommendations laid out in the Ockenden Review.

We all have a role to play when it comes to health and safety. I encourage you to look into how others do it well or don’t do it as well and feed this back to your colleagues and H&S reps. Let your regional and national officers know what good practice you’ve got going on where you work. If shaping change is our lock, communication is our key.