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Hewitt in clash over midwives

Patricia Hewitt is facing fresh criticism after it emerged maternity services were the latest area of care to see specialist healthcare workers replaced by lesser trained staff.

A Department of Health report reveals maternity units are using so-called 'maternity support workers' to replace highly trained midwives. This is despite specific assurances from Mrs Hewitt that 'they are not a substitute for a midwife'.

The new report – produced by Professor Jane Sandall of King's College London – warned uncertainty over the scope of support workers 'could constitute a threat to patient safety'.

In total, 94 maternity units were surveyed and 25 had either converted midwife posts to support worker posts or were using other staff to plug gaps in midwife numbers.

Professor Sandall, professor of midwifery and women's health, said: 'There is a danger support workers could cease to become "another pair of hands". Instead, they may be called upon to substitute care provided by midwives, without sufficient investment in their training or development.'

The department insisted the report showed support workers were only taking on inappropriate work in a 'minority' of trusts.

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