Avoid redeploying maternity staff ahead of second wave, says RCM and RCOG

on 30 September 2020

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) are urging NHS England Trusts and Boards to learn lessons and avoid redeploying maternity staff ahead of the second wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The recommendation from the Royal Colleges has come in response to widespread maternity staff shortages during the peak of the pandemic.

RCM and RCOG have identified principles to ensure safe, high quality care to women and babies during the second wave:

  • Day assessment and triage services should be maintained and maternity staff should actively encourage women to attend if they have concerns about their baby
  • All places of birth should be maintained, including home births and midwifery-led units
  • NICE-recommended schedules of antenatal and postnatal care should be offered in full wherever possible.

RCM CEO, Gill Walton, said: “From shifting to virtual consultations to taking clinics out into the community, there is no doubt that maternity teams have stepped up to ensure the women in their care continue to receive the best and safest possible care under the circumstances.

“They have responded quickly to the challenges and, like the rest of the NHS workforce, have shown great resilience, even in the face of their concerns about their own health and wellbeing. It should not be underestimated the pressure that staff have been under – which is why good, early planning for what is likely to be the second wave is absolutely vital if those staff are to feel valued and supported.”

The Royal Colleges’ recommendations have been tailored based on the findings published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.*

A survey of 81 obstetrics units out of 194 in the UK were asked about service modifications during April 2020, during the UK’s pandemic peak.

70% of obstetric units reported a reduction in antenatal appointments, 56% reported a reduction in postnatal appointments, and 60% temporarily removed the offer of births at home or in a midwife-led unit.

President of RCOG, Dr Edward Morris, said: “We are acutely aware how difficult restrictions on birth partners attending maternity services have been for women and families throughout the pandemic. With increasing prevalence of the virus in many areas and a growing number of local lockdowns and restrictions, services are likely to reluctantly need to maintain some of these restrictions for some time to come. However, we know that all services are prioritising enabling birth partners to attend labour and birth and as many key appointments, including scans, as possible.

“As we approach a potential second wave of the pandemic, we intend to support clinical leaders in maternity to continue to provide safe and personalised care to women and families, and to continue to plan service provision during these challenging times.”

Jardine J, Relph S et al. Mternity services in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: a national survey of modifications to standard care, BJOG (currently embargoed).