Can midwives support and supervise?

Posted by Patricia Wakeford on

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It is a tragedy when anyone dies as a result of care received in an NHS hospital. However, for three babies and a mother to die in the same hospital in the 21st Century seems unbelievable.

The Yorkshire Post has reported on the results of an investigation into these deaths that has uncovered serious failings in midwifery care and follow-ups at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria.

The families welcome the report of Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor which says that there is a clear conflict of interest among midwives working as supervisors and called for both these roles to be separated. Dame Julie said: We think that there are real weaknesses in the statutory arrangements for the local supervision of midwives which risk failure to learn from mistakes. This cannot be in the interests of mothers and babies, or of midwives, and must change. We questioned why the supervision and regulatory arrangements were not the same for midwives as they are for the main medical professions, hence our recommendation that the roles of supervision and professional regulation are separated to avoid the potential for a conflict of interest.

It appears that midwives were supporting other midwives but also supervising them and investigating complaints. It is understandable why Dame Julie has reached her conclusion. As a midwife of over 20 years it was accepted that your supervisor was often one of the shift midwives/managers. However, I can see how difficult it must have been for them to investigate independently the very colleagues that they worked with regularly. Shifts can be very busy and stressful. If midwives confide in their supervisor and ask for support; it must be very difficult to manage this when errors are made.

I agree with this decision. Midwives do need support, but supervision should be a separate entity to ensure that mothers, babies and midwives get the care and support that they need.

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About the Author

Photograph of Patricia Wakeford

Patricia is a Senior Associate, in our Clinical Negligence team, and is also a qualified midwife with many years of experience working in the NHS.

Patricia Wakeford
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023 8085 7310

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