Bedfordshire maternity staff faced racism from colleagues – CQC

By Matt Precey, BBC News, Bedfordshire

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Maternity services at the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust have been downgraded to ‘inadequate’

Maternity staff at an NHS trust faced racism from their own colleagues, a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report said.

The problem was identified at both the Luton and Dunstable (L&D) and Bedford hospitals during an inspection.

Some ethnic minority overseas staff told the CQC discrimination had become “normalised”.

The Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it was addressing these issues.

The regulator was alerted to concerns around the safety, culture, and management of the service by whistleblowers.

On the first day of the inspection, last November, the Luton and Dunstable Hospital’s maternity unit was at full capacity and the trust had to divert new arrivals.

Low staffing levels also meant women and babies were not always kept safe.

The trust was issued with a warning to improve and maternity services at both hospitals have now both been rated as ‘inadequate’.

At the L&D some staff told the inspectors they did not feel able to report instances of racism.

Management acknowledged some parts of the unit had a “challenging culture”.

There were concerns racist incidents being reported to the trust would not be investigated in line with the trust’s values.

At Bedford similar issues were reported.

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Some staff at the trust felt they could not speak out about the racism they had experienced

‘Undermined by racism’

According to trust data, there were also disparities in pay among staff of different ethnicities.

At the L&D, white staff were almost twice as likely to be appointed to jobs after being shortlisted.

The hospital’s board was also among the worst in the country for ethnic minority representation.

Stuart Dunn, CQC deputy director of operations in the East of England, said: “We were concerned to find low staffing for midwives was still a significant risk to the safety of women using these services and their babies despite us telling the trust they needed to address this previously.”

He said the trust had recruited midwives from abroad to help tackle this but this was “being undermined by racism against staff, by their own colleagues, and a lack of support from leaders”.

He continued: “Some international midwives told us they often felt excluded, and that it was normalised for colleagues from ethnic minorities to experience discrimination from colleagues”.

In the trust’s 2022 staff survey, a third of all midwives reported experiencing at least one incident of bullying or harassment from colleagues, Mr Dunn said.

Vacancy rate

In response, the chief executive of Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, David Carter, said: “As a trust committed to delivering excellent care, the CQC feedback was disappointing for us to hear but we are focussing our effort on ensuring that our maternity services consistently meets the standards of care we aspire to give.

“We were disappointed to hear that our international midwives reported issues of discrimination. Any act of discrimination or racism is unacceptable and the trust is committed to ensuring any issues are addressed”.

Mr Carter added that the vacancy rate for registered midwives had been reduced to 6.6% on the L&D site, while Bedford was now fully staffed.

While maternity services are now rated ‘inadequate’ the overall rating of the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust remained ‘good’.

The trust said it had now began a culture and development programme for staff to provide training on “cultural competency, unconscious bias, and anti-racism practices”.

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