In this case, the middle-grade doctor rang in to report sickness. This led to a significant staffing shortfall for the tasks that needed to be carried out.
Adequate staffing is often a challenge for most maternity units. In this context, any absence can create short-notice difficulties. In times of staff shortage, some of the staff carrying out clinical duties often need to simultaneously carry out the contingency plan of finding additional staff and/or diverting work to other units. This inevitably increases pressure, and increases the risk of errors.
Having minimum safe staffing levels for midwifery and medical staff, and a robust escalation policy that can be implemented by the senior staff members on site at any time, is essential.
The Francis Report recognised the importance of adequate staffing levels.
Factors that may affect staffing numbers include:
- maternal and neonatal workload and complexity
- organisational factors such as local service models of care, resources and facilities
- funding for having a full complement of staff
- absence due to sickness, maternity leave, study leave
- difficulty with recruitment.