Smaller maternity units 'not safe'3rd February 2011
A health chief has warned that some smaller maternity units in Wales are not safe or sustainable.
NHS Wales’ medical director Dr Chris Jones said that because a number of the units were dependent on temporary agency staff at a cost of millions of pounds a year, the NHS was not able to fully ensure the quality and competence of these staff or their immediate availability.
One problem, he said, was that maternity units in Wales were not delivering enough babies to attract doctors because they did not meet training guidelines for out-of-hours deliveries, resulting in vacancies.
Dr Jones said: “Now, although all our rotas are European Working Time Directive-compliant on paper, we know in practice they are only being maintained by significant expenditure.
“All of our health boards are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in locum costs, agency costs, extra payments to doctors, to maintain these rotas.
“Betsi Cadwaladr health board is spending up to £1m a year to maintain their rotas. The difficulty is that this is not a safe or sustainable service, because you cannot always guarantee you’ll get someone to fill a shift.”
He acknowledged there were risks with peripatetic locums.
Helen Rogers, director of the Royal College of Midwives in Wales, expressed disappointment at the comments.
“One of the main concerns for me is that a message is going out that maternity services are unsafe and that is clearly not the case,” she said.
Most units in Wales have a rising birth rate but we have good staffing levels, she added.
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