It is very concerning to hear that the rating for maternity services has moved from good to requires improvement following an inspection from the Care Quality Commission. Having seen a copy of the full report, it is clear that the unannounced inspection of the service was focused in its approach, looking at the safety of the maternity service provided by the Trust across its three sites at the John Radcliffe, the Horton and the Cotswold Birthing Centre in Chipping Norton.
Maternal safety has always been my top priority. While the report suggests that staffing levels are where they should be, I was really worried to learn that information about transfer times from community settings is not readily available. Specifically, expectant mothers do not seem to be getting the necessary information about how long a transfer might take in an emergency, limiting their ability to make an informed decision before they decide where they want to give birth. The distance of the midwife-led service at the Horton to the John Radcliffe remains a constant worry for me. While it has been raised time and again with the Trust and the local ambulance service, from whom we have sought assurances that adequate measures are in place, the CQC’s report makes it clear that more needs to be done immediately.
More broadly, while it is encouraging to hear that services are run well and that staff seem to be committed to making the necessary improvements, more must be done to put an end to the culture issues that have plagued the department for so many years. Staff must be able to work in an environment where they feel comfortable to raise concerns without fear of what might happen when they do speak up. I look forward to hearing how this will be tackled in the weeks and months ahead. It will also be interesting to understand how the Trust plans to tackle issues such as improving the privacy and dignity of women as well as the environment on the delivery suites and in the birthing centres which the CQC do not consider to be sufficiently homely and welcoming.
I am grateful to both the whistleblowers who had the courage to make their concerns known about the culture of the service, and to the Care Quality Commission who acted quickly following these complaints. It is clear that a lot of work needs to be done. I have written to the Chief Executive of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to underline this point and to offer my support, where appropriate. You can read the letter below. The future of the Horton General Hospital remains my primary focus. Ensuring the hospital can provide a comprehensive and safe service to the people of north Oxfordshire is essential. We all need to work together as we move forward.