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Archived: Birmingham Women's Hospital Requires improvement

This service is now managed by a different provider - see new profile


Inspection carried out on 12-14 April 2016

During a routine inspection

Birmingham Women’s Hospital provides a range of health care services to women and families across the West Midlands and further afield which include gynaecology, maternity and neonatal care, as well as a comprehensive genetics service. On average, the trust looks after 50,000 patients a year and carries out over 3000 operations. The trust also supports home births to women in South Birmingham.

The trust employs around 1582 staff, 119 medical, 550 nursing and 913 are from other disciplines. The hospital has 210 beds, 117 provided from maternity inpatient services, 53 from neonatal intensive care, this includes a transitional care ward, intensive care unit, high dependency unit, special care baby unit and 42 from gynaecology services.

We carried out an announced inspection visit from 12 to 14 April 2016 and two unannounced visits on 15 and 27 April 2016. This inspection was part of our comprehensive inspection programme.

We held focus groups with a range of staff in the hospital, including consultants, midwives, nurses, junior doctors, student midwives and nurses, administrative and clerical staff, pharmacists, domestic staff and porters. We also spoke with staff individually.

We inspected and reported the Termination of Pregnancy services (ToPS) under Surgery and Gynaecology services because the volume of ToPS activity did not warrant an individual report. For the same reason, aspects of end of life care for women and babies was inspected and reported under Surgery and Gynaecology and neonatal services.

Overall, we rated this trust as requires improvement. We found that safety and caring was good and effective, responsive and well led required improvement.

The senior team was visible and accessible to staff and managers were seen as supportive and approachable. Managers were keen to engage and include staff in service development. There were some concerns raised in relation to the Termination of Pregnancy service, however the trust had commissioned an external review to look at issues raised.

There was a positive and enthusiastic culture throughout the hospital. Staff were committed and passionate about their work and proud of the services they offered to patients. Staff were keen to learn and continuously improve and patients were very positive about the care and treatment they received at the hospital.

Our key findings were as follows:


  • Generally, there were sufficient numbers of consultants and middle grade doctors to provide good quality care and treatment for patients in line with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidance. However, in Maternity Inpatients from January 2014 to June 2015 there was 90-120 hours coverage per week which was below the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommendations of 168 hours for the number of births.

  • There were established systems for reporting incidents and ‘near misses’. Staff had received training and were confident in using of the incident reporting system.

  • The latest national reporting and learning system (NRLS) data showed the trust reported 1,468 incidents to NRLS from January 2015 to January 2016. 96% were no harm or low harm (70% no harm). 33% of incidents took 31 to 60 days to report, with 23% taking more than 90 days to report. The Obstetrics specialty had the most incidents reported (838), accounting for 57% of all incidents. Gynaecology accounted for 18% and Neonatology for 17% of all incidents.

  • There were no cases of hospital acquired infections for example; Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA), Meticillin-Sensitive Staphylococcus Aureus (MSSA)or Clostridium difficile (C.diff) reported from December 2014 to December 2015.

  • There was a visibly high standard of cleanliness throughout the hospital. Staff were aware of current infection prevention and control guidelines and observed good practice.

  • All relevant staff had received appropriate levels of training for safeguarding children and safeguarding of vulnerable adults, supported by robust policies and procedures. The trust set a target of 100% for safeguarding children training level 1, and they achieved this. For level two, they set a target of 85% and they achieved 97%. For level three, the target was 85% and they achieved 87%. For adult safeguarding, level one the trust achieved 100% against a target of 85% and for level two the trust achieved 97%.

  • There were challenges to fill sonography vacancies in the outpatient department which resulted in long waiting times, in some cases in excess of five hours. Across the four maternity community teams there was a vacancy rate of 5.93%, although the recruitment programme was underway, the trust found it challenging to recruit community midwives.

  • Neonatal staffing levels could not meet the national standards of nurse to patient ratio. However, neonatal staff were working extra hours to fill in gaps on the staffing rota which ensured care and treatment was delivered in a timely manner.


  • There were challenges around appropriate fasting times for women awaiting surgery, in some cases women had been starved pre-operatively in excess of 12 hours which could have impacted on their recovery. Time without fluids was at least five hours which is longer than the two hours which the Royal College of Anaesthetists recommends.

  • People were given a choice of suitable and nutritious food and drink, and we observed hot and cold drinks available throughout the day. Women who accessed the birth centre used ‘smoothie’ making equipment to help meet their nutrition and hydration needs whilst in labour.

  • Patient’s religious, cultural and dietary needs were considered and food was provided in accordance with their requirements.

  •  Women were supported to feed their babies using their preferred method. The trust had been awarded UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) stage three accreditation. BFI focuses on staff knowledge and skills to support families with their infant feeding choices.   
  • The trust acknowledged that poor breastfeeding support had resulted in an increase of neonatal readmissions due to related feeding issues. This had been raised as a CQC outlier. The service had developed an action plan to address these issues. The action plan was comprehensive and we saw target completion dates were on track to be achieved.

  • Nine extra support staff had recently been recruited and trained to offer breastfeeding support in an attempt to improve skin to skin contact for new-born babies and improve breastfeeding initiation rates.

  • The hospital’s 2016 Patient Led Assessment of the Care Environment audit identified a score of 96.76% for ward food.


  • People were respected and valued as individuals and empowered as partners in their care across all services.

  • Women and their families were treated with dignity and respect and we saw outstanding caring attitude and particularly within Inpatient Maternity services.

  • Feedback from people who use the service, and those who are close to them was continually positive about the way staff treated people.

  • People told us staff went the extra mile in supporting women and provided continued help and advice to women who wanted to breast-feed.

  • Staff took people’s personal, cultural, social and religious needs into account and actively engaged with people to provide cultural sensitive care and treatment at every given opportunity.

  • People’s emotional and social needs were highly valued by staff and embedded in their care and treatment.


  • There had been a long standing issue with the time taken to assemble an on-call second theatre team to perform emergency caesareans. This had been unresolved and on the risk register for more than five years. During this time audits had been completed and the case made for a second resident team, however, the divisional leadership team had been unable to secure agreement from the trust to take this forward.

  • We noted the information on medical terminations of pregnancy did not include the risk of a late gestation foetus showing ‘signs of life’ and the potential requirement to register with the coroner.

  • Bookings for pregnancy and birth at the trust were limited to ensure demand did not exceed capacity.

  • Bed occupancy for 2014/2015 was between 64% and 72%, however for 2015/2016 the bed occupancy ranged between 72% and 82% and both years were higher than the national average.

  • Within neonatal services bed capacity leads worked six days a week to organise patient transfers and admissions. The unit did not close to patients in need of admission however, at times the unit would delay ex-utero (babies already born) transfers until cots were vacant and staffing levels were appropriate.

  • BWH provided a neonatal transport service for babies to and from the West Midlands area. This did not include a baby stabilisation service. There were procedures in place should a babies condition deteriorate in transit. A comprehensive neonatal team of 16 trained staff were responsible for the transport service.

Well led

  • The trust had not captured through audit the risk to breach of its condition of registration of ToP services under the Health and Social Care Act.

  • There were challenges around governance arrangements and risk   management with termination of pregnancy service. For example, the new contract for the termination of pregnancy service had commenced in January 2015. At the time of the inspection training for staff had not been formalised despite concerns expressed by staff about the need for clarity regarding actions to be taken.
  • The concerns we raised in relation to infection prevention and control, and the management of medicines and intravenous fluids within surgery services had not been identified in the audits undertaken within the service.

  • We observed a very good relationship between clinical staff and NICU managerial staff. The unit managers described a good relationship with the executive managers.

  • Generally there was a culture of openness, flexibility and willingness was demonstrated amongst all the teams and staff we met.

We saw several areas of outstanding practice including:

  • Video books were available for women who did not speak or read English which meant women had access to information about the service and their care and treatment.

  • The trust was awarded a s (SDIP) grant by local commissioners to pilot a three year project to set up a Homebirth Service.

  • Gynaecology services had been successful in becoming an accredited British Gynaecology Endoscopy (BSGE) centre for complex endometriosis.

  • A five year contract for providing complex abortion care had been secured. This contract covered Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and West Birmingham and South Birmingham.

  • The bereavement service had developed an integrated care pathway for bereaved parents which ensured consistency in formation provided and had been developed to reflect the needs of patients and their families.

  • The neonatal intensive care unit introduced the routine use of pulse oximetry for all babies within 24 hours of birth or prior to discharge. This has been identified as significant in the early detection of critical congenital heart defects prior to the deterioration of the baby.

  • The outpatient gynaecology department provided fast rehydration to patients seen in the hyperemesis clinic resulting in a reduction in re-admissions and overnight stays.

However, there were also areas of poor practice where the trust needs to make improvements.

Importantly, the trust must:

  • Ensure Healthy Start vitamins are stored securely in all community maternity team offices.

  • Medicines are prescribed in line with the trust policy.

  • All community midwives must attend safeguarding supervision in line with Department of Health requirements (Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2015).

  • Ensure the safe storage of medicines including intravenous fluids.

  • Improve the application of infection prevention and control procedures in relation to the use of personal protective clothing and equipment and hand hygiene.

  • Properly maintain all equipment and medical devices.

  • Provide secure storage for patient records across all clinical areas.

  • Ensure the project to develop a second emergency theatre team is progressed in a timely manner.

  • The trust must ensure all HSA1 certificates for termination of pregnancy are fully completed by the registered medical practitioners signing them.

  • Identify, monitor and mitigate all risks relating to developing the complex abortion service pathway. In particular, in respect of processes required and the impact on staff and patients of distressing elements of late gestation termination.

  • Provide training to ward staff caring for complex abortion services patients in the appropriate procedures for responding to late gestation termination of pregnancy where the foetus may be indicating signs of life.

  • Ensure team work between the complex abortion care service, ward teams and bereavement team and wider medical teams are strengthened to mitigate risks involved in late gestation termination of pregnancy.

  • Take steps to ensure multi-disciplinary team work is improved where clinicians from other trusts are contributing the care of patients.

  • Clarify the method clinician’s should use to establish consent to termination of pregnancy from adult patients with learning disabilities.

  • Ensure the data collected for the Neonatal Audit Programme (NNAP) reflects the care given within the unit.

  • Ensure staff receive mental capacity training in line with trust guidance.

  • Implement a system to assess, monitor and improve the waiting times across clinics in the outpatients and diagnostic departments.

  • Mitigate the risks relating to the health, safety and welfare of service users by regularly reviewing the risk register and include a timescale in completing any risks identified.

  • The trust must reduce the waiting times in the diagnostics department by having sufficient numbers of qualified staff.

In addition the trust should:

  • Review community midwives’ caseloads to ensure equitable distribution of numbers and complexity pending review of staffing planned for June 2016.

  • Review how patients are informed about and supported to clearly understand the process and all potential clinical elements of late gestation termination of pregnancy.

  • Develop and put in place agreed after care pathways for ward staff to follow to best support patients. These should address the needs of patients where they may differ in respect of the decision to terminate their pregnancy.

  • Review the procedures for pre-operative fasting to ensure food and fluids are withdrawn for the minimum length of time to ensure the safety of patients and the maintenance of hydration.

  • Ensure where best interest decisions are made on behalf of a patient that reasons for the decision and other options considered, are clearly recorded.

  • Review the application of its policy for the use of interpreters to ensure all patients who require an interpreter are offered an independent interpreter.

  • Ensure there are processes in place to ensure learning is shared between different parts of the service and there is improved communication across services to enable the development of best practice.

  • Review the process for escalation of clinical concerns to ensure a timely response is achieved.

  • Introduce measures to reduce or remove risks on the risk register within a timescale that reflects the level of risk and impact on people using the service.

  • Take steps to improve the accessibility and reliability of the electronic care planning system in place in gynaecology.

  • Consider the perception that gynaecology is not dealt with fairly and issues prioritised in the same way as for other services and take steps to ensure equity.

  • MEWS charts are completed appropriately.

  • Patients undergoing induction of labour are supported to continue the induction process within a satisfactory timeframe.

  • On-site consultant hours reflect the recommendations by the RCOG in relation to the number of births.

  • Use the capacity data captured to influence staffing levels and business plans.

  • Consider it provides the persons with the information they would reasonably need by giving patients leaflets about their post treatment, rather than being directed to go onto the website.

  • Consider it has a consistent system across all departments to flag up any learning disability patients.

Professor Sir Mike Richards

Chief Inspector of Hospitals

Inspection carried out on 1, 2, 5, 7 November 2013

During a routine inspection

We visited the Hospital over four days including a Saturday afternoon and evening and held a meeting with managers. We looked at services provided by the Maternity and Neonatal Directorates and at the quality assurance and governance systems of those services. We did not inspect all of the services that the Trust provided.

People commented positively on their experience of services. Treatment plans were in place and were followed for people in all units and wards that we visited and people were given information to help them to understand their treatment.

Equipment was available when needed and kept in safe working order by medical equipment engineers. Medical equipment cleaners were on duty in the maternity department to keep equipment appropriately clean and ready for use at all times.

Prior to, during and immediately after the inspection we were contacted anonymously by staff who expressed concerns about the staffing levels in place to meet the demands of the maternity and the neonatal services. We found that staffing was actively monitored and managed to access sufficient nurses and midwives to provide the care needed. Consultants were available on site and on call including over weekends.

The Trust had effective systems in place to assess and monitor the quality of service that people received. These systems ensured that leaders of the organisation were informed when any high risks to patient safety were identified so they could take action to reduce them.

Inspection carried out on 13 February 2013

During an inspection in response to concerns

In January 2013 we received information from the provider about incidents that had occurred while people were receiving a service. We followed up on the action that the provider had taken to respond to these issues and visited the service on 13 February 2013.

We found that the provider had worked in close partnership with other hospital and community health trusts where people's care was shared or they were moved between health services. Systems were in place to monitor the quality of the services people received; and any adverse incidents or poor outcomes for people were reported and analysed to inform future health care practice. We noted that complaints received were responded to in line with the procedures of the trust and were investigated.

We found that the trust had effective systems in place for monitoring and assessing the quality of the services that it provided. The trust had applied learning from incidents and investigations to ensure that appropriate changes were implemented to further reduce risk and improve the quality of services provided. There was a specific committee structure in place to oversee and manage quality and risk within the trust and committee leaders and senior staff received an appropriate level of training in assurance.

Inspection carried out on 27 September 2012

During a routine inspection

We visited the hospital on 27 September 2012 and looked at services provided by three out of the four directorates at the hospital. We spoke to nineteen people including outpatients.

People told us they were confident that they had given consent where it was applicable, that the information they were given was concise and clear with "no waffle, all my questions were answered." They said that staff explained everything to them. One person commented that information leaflets contained too much jargon.

People on wards told us that they felt involved in their care; they knew that there was a plan and they were aware that notes were made about their daily progress. People in outpatient's clinics told us that the after care was very good and that staff were friendly and very helpful.

People told us that they were able to look after their own medicines while staying at the hospital if they wished to. They were provided with safe and secure storage for them.

People said they felt that the staff were knowledgeable and skilled, giving them plenty of time to consider any tests they were to undergo. They said that nurses and doctors seemed competent and they felt safe in their care.

Parents who used neonatal services told us that they felt able to approach any of the staff and that staff were open but sensitive, "We had a consultant from neonatal who came to discuss what would happen at delivery. He was frank and open, I liked this. He asked us if we had any questions."

Most people told us that they were given information about raising a concern or making a complaint about the service. One person said they were not but added �I would not have been backwards in coming forward, plus there was no need.�

People said they would be happy to raise any concerns they had with staff. Some people said they were not aware of a formal complaint procedure but said they would probably start by talking to the Sister in charge.

Inspection carried out on 21, 28 March 2012

During a themed inspection looking at Termination of Pregnancy Services

We did not speak to people who used this service as part of this review. We looked at a random sample of medical records. This was to check that current practice ensured that no treatment for the termination of pregnancy was commenced unless two certificated opinions from doctors had been obtained.

Inspection carried out on 13 April 2011

During a routine inspection

People who used the service told us that staff explained their care, treatment and support choices to them and involved them in their care. People told us that the �staff are very knowledgeable. They explain things clearly and give me plenty of chances to ask questions�, �I never feel rushed, it is always very calm, they are not rushing you out at the end of an appointment�. They said that the staff were �very helpful, kind and approachable� and that �the privacy on the ward is fine, they close the curtains if we need to be private�. They told us that medicines to relieve pain were available when they needed them and they were effective.

Some people told us they had to wait for their outpatient appointments, �This clinic usually runs about an hour late. People never tell you why, there is no communication from the front desk. That would make it much better really�.

People gave us mixed views about the food. They said they had a choice of food and some people told us that the food was tasty, �I love it�. However, not everyone liked the food. One person said �the food was OK. Put it like this, I was never left hungry. It was edible�. Several people in the gynaecology ward we visited told us that the food was �lukewarm�.

Nearly everyone we spoke to told us that they thought the hospital was clean and they had no concerns about cleanliness. �Cleanliness has always been fine. There has never been a problem with this clinic or other parts of the hospital I have been in�. �The cleaners come and hoover every day� and �the nurses are backwards and forwards to the sinks washing their hands all the time�.

Most people told us they had not had a reason to complain. One person said �I have never had a problem. They have been so good to me�. People�s views on the trust were generally summed up in these two comments: �staff here have a lot of specialist knowledge. I come regularly, and find it excellent�, �I feel we are very lucky in Birmingham to have this specialist hospital. Friends I speak to, who don�t live locally, don�t get the same services we get here�.