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Canterbury Christ Church University midwifery course suddenly suspended amid quality concerns

Dozens of students have suddenly been told they cannot start their midwifery courses this month after concerns were raised about its quality, KentOnline can reveal.

The three-year BSc course at Canterbury Christ Church University has been found to be lacking in crucial areas by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which acts as regulator.

The "unexpected and distressing" decision is not only a blow to the 70 would-be trainees, but also for midwifery services where union bosses report a "shocking shortage" of staff.

The regulator stepped in after receiving alarming feedback from existing students, who reported a lack of supervision - with trainees being left with patients for entire shifts.

The NMC also discovered students did not feel supported enough to raise concerns, or listened to when they did.

It concluded the course had failed to meet its new standards in a number of areas, prompting it to halt the training just weeks before term was due to start.

The university, which has campuses in Canterbury and Medway, has long offered a maternity programme, with its students training in hospitals in East Kent, Maidstone and Medway.

"[Students] describe a number of examples of how they often work unsupervised..."

The NMC's report on the course, which is published on its website, says: "Students tell us that they don’t always work with practice supervisors.

"They describe a number of examples of how they often work unsupervised and that there isn’t enough staff to support them and told by staff in practice that this is normal.

"Students tell us it’s normal for them to work as part of the team, including, for example, taking care of women across a full shift without appropriate supervision by a midwife.

"They don’t always feel supported to report these concerns and find that if they do, they aren’t always listened to by practice or the university staff."

The council says it knows the setback will be "unexpected and distressing" for the 70 prospective students, but it had no choice.

Union bosses say there is already "shocking shortage" of staff in midwifery services. Picture: istock/sturti
Union bosses say there is already "shocking shortage" of staff in midwifery services. Picture: istock/sturti

A spokesman for the university said there had been "unavoidable delays" in the institution being able to gain approval for its midwifery degree in time for next month.

It informed candidates on July 11 of the setback, adding: "We understand the distress that this has caused and are working closely with applicants to provide the support that is required for their own personal circumstances."

He says the university is now urgently working with its NHS partners to "address the issues" identified by the NMC in order to meet the high standards required.

"We expect to complete that process to allow our cohort of students to start with a delayed date of April 2023," he added.

He says the vast majority of applicants have deferred their applications and will look to join the course in April. Others have elected to start in September 2023, change to a different health programme or move to another provider.

"We have already had conversations directly with applicants and their circumstances vary greatly, so we are taking an approach focused on an individual’s needs and circumstances," he said.

"We are working hard to find positive outcomes for those impacted and are making progress in doing so, working with Health Education England and our partner NHS trusts to secure temporary employment until they take up a place with us.

"Those conversations are proving to be fruitful and constructive."

'There simply aren't enough midwives'

The suspension of the course comes amid a shortage of midwives, and concerns already-stressed staff are struggling to cope with supervising a raw recruit while caring for multiple patients in labour.

Former midwife Piroska Cavell qualified from the university in 2010 but quit the profession nine years later for fear of "burning out" due to the stress and workload.

Former midwife Piroska Cavell
Former midwife Piroska Cavell

The 55-year-old, who now runs a beauty clinic in Whitstable, says maternity units are already overstretched and she is not surprised midwives are struggling.

"It's quite shocking and sad that this course has been postponed," she said.

"Midwives obviously want to help but are already under enormous pressure because there simply aren't enough of them. Having to supervise and be responsible for a student simply adds to that.

"These students may have done the classroom theory but it can be quite daunting for them on the ward itself.

"And if there are complications and something goes wrong, it's down to the midwife who could lose her registration."

Application must be resubmitted

The executive director of professional practice at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Professor Geraldine Walters, said: "All midwifery programmes must go through our quality assurance process, to make sure students everywhere gain the knowledge and skills they need to join our register at the end of their course.

"Canterbury Christ Church University was the last education institution to seek approval of its midwifery programme against our new education standards.

Nursing and Midwifery Council executive director Geraldine Walters
Nursing and Midwifery Council executive director Geraldine Walters

"Unfortunately, our QA process highlighted some concerns, and the late time frame means it can’t start its programme in September.

“We know this will be unexpected and distressing for the prospective students on the university's course.

"We’ve worked with the university and Health Education England to explore all possible options. The only viable one is for the university to address our Quality Assurance visitors’ concerns and resubmit its programme for approval, aiming for a delayed start in April 2023."

The setback could now impact the number of qualified midwives hospital trusts would be expecting in three years' time.

It also comes as senior health figures warn of a "shocking shortage" of midwives which could put pregnant mothers at risk.

'We know this will be unexpected and distressing for the prospective students on the university's course'

The Royal College of Midwives warned late last year of a maternity staffing crisis, with midwives being driven out by the pressures of under-staffing and fears they cannot safely deliver care.

NHS Kent and Medway’s director of maternity and neonatal services, Becky Collins, said: “We are committed to high-quality maternity services in our hospitals and supporting the education of student midwives.

“Midwives across Kent and Medway continue to work hard to offer women the best possible care and experience. We are supporting the university and local trusts to make sure they are ready for accreditation in April 2023 when the university resubmits its programme for approval.”

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