The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford in the county’s main emergency hospital and maternity hospital, with approximately 655,000 people under its care. As such, the hospital & its staff are used to busy wards & high demand for their services.

In May 2021, the CQC (care quality commission) conducted an inspection of the maternity services following concerns which were expressed by a whistleblower about the culture & quality of the department. Following the inspection, the department was rated as requiring improvement.

The pressure on the JR’s maternity services, specifically on their neonatal care unit, reached breaking point on 30 October 2021, as the department was forced to announce that there were temporarily no neo-natal intensive care cots, high dependency cots, or special care cots available for newborns, as they had to ensure that existing patients could be cared for safely. Services were also reduced for women from outside of Oxfordshire.

At the same time, midwife-led maternity units around the county also felt the pinch, with staff shortages leading to closures at Chipping Norton and Wantage.

The Banbury Guardian reported the story & published comments from Alison Cuthbertson, the Director of Midwifery at the Trust involved: “Patient and staff safety is our number one priority. Unfortunately, we are experiencing ongoing staffing constraints so, to safely run our maternity services, the Wantage and Chipping Norton midwifery led units (MLUs) are currently not open for births. The Home Birth service and other low risk birth services across Oxfordshire currently remain unchanged.”

Staff shortages are being seen across the country and not just in the healthcare sector, as job vacancies soared to 1 million in September 2021. On 1 October 2021, The Independent reported the recent analysis of the NHS’s staffing levels conducted by the Health Foundation which found that 1 million extra staff members will be needed over the next decade if the NHS and social care is to reach in the projected increase in demand.

Staff shortages place strain on existing staff members, as patient workloads increase & shifts get longer. Sadly, it is easy to see the correlation between shortages & adverse outcomes for patients. As the NHS scrabbles to fill essential posts, it is likely that maternity services will continue to be disrupted. It is likely that the JR Hospital’s ability to provide safe care will be tested continuously before the necessary staff posts are filled, particularly as concerns about a winter health crisis & the ever-present Covid-19 pandemic endure. 

Whilst the recent situation at John Radcliffe appears to have been handled well, such disruptions and increasing pressure on maternity and neonatal services creates an environment in which potential mistakes may be made. 

As clinical negligence lawyers we represent families and children who have suffered or have lost loved ones as a result of failures in medical care during and after birth. In cases of serious disability these claims seek to ensure that children who have suffered a preventable injury can access the services they require such as care, therapy, aids and equipment, and suitably adapted accommodation which may assist them during their lives. We may also be able to secure an apology from the Trust responsible and seek to assurances that the same mistakes are not made again.

If you or a loved one have concerns about midwifery, obstetric or neonatal care, then our clinical negligence team in Oxford can assist, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free, confidential discussion.

Please phone or email Carolyn Lowe, Partner on 0186 578 1019   or Catherine Bell, Director on 0186 578 1140 .