Funding claim made by nursing chief regarding N&N maternity unit

General view of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney; April 2009; NNUH / Hospital /

General view of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney; April 2009; NNUH / Hospital / Colney / Parking / A & E; Picture: James Bass; Copy: Rebecca Gough; For: EN News; Evening News © 2009 (01603) 772434 - Credit: Evening News © 2009

Not enough money is being given to ensure staffing levels at the region's biggest maternity department follow national guidelines, a nursing chief has claimed.

The midwife-to-birth ratio at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) is currently below the recommended levels, a problem caused by funding - according to N&N director of nursing Emma McKay.

Her comments came at a meeting of the N&N's board of directors yesterday.

A spokesman for North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which pays the N&N for patients' treatment, said staffing ratios are the responsibility of the N&N.

The hospital's maternity unit, the biggest in Norfolk and Suffolk, has come under increasing pressure due to issues such as the midwife-to-birth ratio, unfilled nursing and midwifery shifts, and temporary closures of the department because of high demand.

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The national guidance for the midwife-to-birth ratio is 1:28, but the N&N is currently achieving 1:30.

That is an improvement from 1:34 in October last year, a figure described as unacceptable by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

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Ms McKay said: 'We are funded to have a ratio of 1:30.'

She added: 'The CQC say we should be at 1:28 and commissioners say we should be at 1:30.'

The trust later said achieving the 1:28 level would require further investment, and added it was working with 'partner agencies' to accomplish that.

So far this financial year North Norfolk CCG has paid the N&N nearly £5.5m for maternity services.

'Staffing ratios are the responsibility of the trust,' the CCG spokesman said.

A spokesman for the CQC said the N&N's current ratio may be acceptable if managers can show how the ensuing risks are mitigated.

They added many hospital trusts are not funded enough or cannot achieve the staffing levels set out in the national guidance.

The latest figures for October reveal that the fill-rate of midwives at the N&N's delivery suite was 93.1pc during the day, and 94.4pc during the night.

Around 6,000 births are carried out at the unit every year.

Meanwhile the N&N trust is continuing with its drive to cut down on temporary staffing, which is saving much-needed money.

Measures taken to reduce spending on agency staff, who cost the trust more than permanent staff, include closing wards this autumn and not hiring from companies that charge rates which are more expensive than NHS price caps permit.

Cutting costs in this way is vital to the trust, which has been in financial special measures since July.

The trust originally predicted a £32m deficit for this financial year, but are now on track to deliver a £25m deficit.

Mark Davies, chief executive of the trust, said: 'There is eveidence we're getting back on our financial feet relatively quickly.

'That's a fantastic achievement by our staff.

'It's tough and difficult but we're moving in the right direction.

The trust's new permanent chief finance officer, James Norman, will take up his post on January 3.

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