Maternity and neonatal safety support for Cymru

By RCM Director Wales Julie Richards on 14 July 2023 Maternity Services Wellbeing Of Women NHS NHS Staff RCM Research

Following the release of the long-awaited Maternity and Neonatal Safety Support programme Cymru discovery phase report this week Maternity and Neonatal Safety Support Programme Cymru discovery phase report, RCM Director for Wales Julie Richards hopes the programme will enable high quality, safe and effective services for women and their babies across Wales and will drive better outcomes for families in Wales.  

Women and maternity staff deserve nothing less than total commitment from the Government to once and for all end the crisis facing services and safety. This means giving maternity and neonatal services the resources needed now, and long into the future. This programme launch is a timely step into building better. The work will require personal, local, regional and national actions, along with systemic change and a sustained co-ordinated approach to improvement and strong collaborative leadership.  

As with the most grandiose of ambitions, we are harbouring some scepticism on where the funding will come from. How will these dreams become reality? It is uncertain of the scale of investment needed but as a key stakeholder on the MatNeo Support Safety Programme Board, the RCM will do all it can in its power to influence Welsh Government and NHS Wales to secure the resources and funding that is necessary for the improvement to maternity and neonatal services.  

The programme argues strongly that substantially increasing training and education must be accompanied by a focus on staff working in different ways, on growing skills and capacity and on more strategic use of skill-mix. This will include better utilisation of digital and technological innovations, and expanding new and extended roles, such as advanced practitioners.  

When staff shortages are making it so hard for midwives to access CPD and when they often have to attend training in their own time and at their own financial cost, how will it be possible to make good on the commitment to improve access and attendance to training and development opportunities? Also if clinicians are to be supported to make the best us of digital technology, then what assessment will be made of their technological capacity and confidence? And what training will be in place to address their needs?

The programme also explores our current landscape in Wales including detailed views of work culture, leadership and learning alongside workforce and clinical outcome measures for mothers and babies across the nation. This concurs with the RCM State of Maternity Services report for Wales that also outlines growing numbers of women being cared for by Welsh maternity services with additional health needs, which is increasing the demands on midwives and their colleagues. Such areas certainly require more focus and care from maternity staff, which, in turn, places additional burdens on workforce planning.

The discovery phase report found significant challenges amongst the workforce, with teams strained by gaps and ad hoc cover, which impacted on wellbeing, education, training, research and other service. This echoes the RCM’s recent call for a renewed focus on workforce and staffing levels for maternity services with its latest report shows the number of experienced midwives in maternity services in Wales are at dramatically low levels.

Our workforce is the foundation of the care we provide. Appropriate staffing underpins everything we want to achieve for women and families in our care. Staff wellbeing, support and retention are key priorities as well as recruitment. It is welcomed on the programme’s findings and priorities to drive through improvements on a broad range of fronts and provide the framework needed to ensure perinatal services is delivered better and more safely with workforce at the heart.

Having the MatNeo Safety Support programme gives us the basis for clear and consistent approach to perinatal safety across Wales. We have waited so long for this discovery report and agree with the belief that is a start and an opportunity to really make a difference. It has the potential to alleviate the incredible strain on midwives, maternity support workers and their colleagues. RCM will be holding the Welsh Government and NHS Wales to account to make sure it’s delivered.