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Christine Colbourne – Maternity
A former head of midwifery, Christine Colbourne, 57, views her CQC specialist advisor role as a way to continue her mission after retirement: to strive for the best possible maternity services around the country.
"My 36 years on the midwifery frontline were spent in just one hospital – Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust. I worked as its head of midwifery for 13 years, leading midwives and support staff to deliver a service focused on placing women at the centre of care.
Although I retired in 2013 aged 55, I missed working as part of a team and having contact with mothers and families – plus felt I still had a significant contribution to make.
Finding out about the specialist advisor role
Like many, I'd been aware of CQC through my own trust being inspected. In fact, chatting to an inspector about processes once I was told I'd make a great inspector myself!
I was also encouraged to join by my former director of nursing, Siobhan Jordan, who became one of CQC's head of hospital inspections.
Since my first inspection in March 2014, I've been involved in 11 inspections. This equates to about one a month – the rest of the time I spend working as a consultant in midwifery services offering project management and operational support to maternity services.
Researching the trust beforehand
Before an inspection, CQC sends us a data pack about the trust, containing the latest information and giving us an idea what it does well as well as potential areas for improvement.
I also search online to find out about the service I'm going to visit, in particular what people have said about the trust's maternity services. I look at a variety of sites including the NHS website, the latest CQC's maternity survey, the most recent supervision report and Mumsnet – as well as the trust's own website to get a feel of the service profile.
If I spot a particular theme around an issue, for example if mums have mentioned caring staff or unpleasant interactions with team members, I'll make a note to corroborate this information during the inspection.
I'll also note good experiences women talk about and any positive news articles. As well as finding things that trusts need to improve, we're there to celebrate positives.
My role during inspections
On the actual inspection, the maternity team will visit all areas where women receive care in their pregnancy including antenatal, labour ward and postnatal wards. I'll try to speak to mums about their experiences, meet staff and look at guidelines, practices and systems in place to support the service.
I'll also observe how people interact with each other. For a maternity service to run smoothly, there must be good working relationships between doctors, midwives, support staff and admin staff. I'll also attend a morning or evening handover to see how the team works.
I also seek out community midwives to seek their views and experiences of working for the trust. Working outside the unit, they can sometimes get forgotten but their role is so important as they can be a mum-to-be's first experience of the NHS and such an influence on how the trust is perceived.
Putting things into context as a specialist advisor
The difference between a CQC inspector and a specialist advisor is that specialist advisors have the knowledge to put certain things into context.
Take training records for staff, which I check routinely on inspections – particularly around mandatory training on, for example, using equipment, infection control processes and safeguarding children.
Of course there must be a mechanism in place to ensure all staff have access to and attend training annually. But as clinicians, we understand how hard it is to get 100% of staff trained all the time. Rather than viewing training as a paper exercise, we'll take into account what efforts the service makes to get staff trained, and how they approach it.
My CQC work is my passion
After retiring I felt I still had a huge amount to offer maternity services, and I was right – my CQC work is now my passion.
It also offers me the opportunity to stay up to date with my registration with the NMC as I do far more reading around maternity issues than was ever able to do in my full-time role.
I'm able to keep up to speed on current best practice and guidance and even though I no longer help women give birth I have the knowledge and experience of knowing what a good service looks like.
Having the latest knowledge is the only way to fairly judge a service, and it's so important to have that clinical credibility when I talk to midwives about how they care for patients.
Urging others to become specialist advisors
Being a specialist advisor exposes you to clinical and operational nursing and midwifery issues, and shapes your views on what good, safe, caring practice looks like.
I wish this role had been available when I was working full time in the NHS. That's why, when midwives I meet on inspections ask me how I got involved with the CQC, I suggest it to them as a possible development opportunity.
The only way to get the best possible maternity services is by sharing people's best practice nationally. Recruiting more midwives as specialist advisors is a step in that direction."
- Last updated:
- 15 January 2019