Northamptonshire maternity services raise concerns about response to safeguarding referrals

Maternity services have raised concerns. Pixaby image.
Maternity services have raised concerns. Pixaby image.

Northamptonshire’s maternity services have raised concerns about how social services are dealing with safeguarding referrals for unborn children and newborn babies.

Health professionals say there are ‘real challenges’ in the county and the NHS clinical commissioning groups have now funded two new posts to monitor and support the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) which is the first point of contact for anyone who has concerns about a child at risk. Concerns have also been raised by maternity services in relation to how Northamptonshire County Council, which runs social services, is handling safeguarding issues.

Speaking at the Corby CCG board meeting yesterday(Dec18) deputy director of quality for the Nene and Corby CCGs Alison Jamson said: “There are some real challenges going on in the county around safeguarding.

“We know that Northamptonshire County Council is working on it but we continue to have concerns. One in particular is the number of staff vacancies. We know they are working hard but it is still a critical gap.”

The MASH came in for criticism from Ofsted in a November report which said decisions were not always made correctly and some cases were closed too early.

Following the Ofsted inspection and a request from the lead commissioner running the county council the Government has sent in experienced children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam to turn around the children’s department, which has responsibility for social services and education.

When Ofsted went into NCC’s childrens services for its visit in October it found that 267 children were without an allocated social worker. The authority has had a high churn of social work staff and is having to rely on agency staff to fill vacancies.

Another area of concern highlighted by Alison Jamson regards newborns.

Her report states: “Specific concerns have been raised by maternity services and the response to referrals by NCC. This has resulted in accelerated escalations due to safeguarding concerns for the unborn/baby and delayed discharge.”

A piece of work is now being co-ordinated by the county council and maternity services to look at the gap in skills and knowledge for social workers.

Chairman of watchdog Northamptonshire Healthwatch Dr David Jones said it was a ‘concerning situation’.

He said: “Northamptonshire is a high spending authority which is paradoxical. The reason it is high spending is because it has a high number of children in care and it takes time to turn around.

“There are concerns among professionals that people start referring more into children’s services because the only way you can get help is referring at a high tarrif. That puts continual pressure. It requires a lot of confidence among schools and health professionals to begin to turn that around. Until that is turned around the pressure will continue.

“It is a whole system transformation that is going to be required.”

The county council’s director of public health Lucy Wightman said the county authority’s new chief executive Theresa Grant was highly experienced and committed to getting the department in shape.

She said: “She is acutely aware of what good services look like. She has been appalled at some of the things she has found at NCC and is very committed to getting them sorted.”