Efforts to tackle the "significant challenge" of recruiting qualified midwives has turned to overseas, a Suffolk hospital has said.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, has "gone global" by looking to the Caribbean and South Africa, amongst other places, to fill gaps in midwifery staffing, a trust board meeting heard.

When asked at the recent meeting what keeps her awake at night, Karen Newbury, head of midwifery, said staffing.

"We want to [fully] introduce Continuity of Carer and we cannot do that without extra staff," she said. "We need a big injection of staff."

A spokesperson for the trust said they were currently recruiting for the equivalent of 8.8 WTE [whole time equivalent] midwives.

In statement, Ms Newbury said: "We are working exceptionally hard to recruit additional midwives locally as well as being part of a regional programme to recruit international midwives.

“We know that midwifery recruitment is an issue across the whole of the NHS and we are very grateful for the flexibility and dedication of our staff in ensuring that we provide a safe and caring service.”

A midwifery staffing report from November 2021 said recruitment of qualified midwives was posing a "significant challenge" to maternity services nationally and at West Suffolk Hospital.

It added: "The midwife to birth ratio has been adversely affected by staffing shortages and the impact of continued issues relating to Covid-19 and vacancies."

The report said the service has not always achieved the minimum expected levels on some shifts and the number of 'red flags' reported in the last three months of the reporting period has "significantly increased", mainly due to delays in being able to proceed with induction of labour due to staffing shortages.

'Red flags' in maternity services are defined as warning signs that something may be wrong with midwifery staffing.

Between April and September there were 60 red flags including 45 reports of delays in continuation of induction of labour due to high activity on the labour suite - partly due to staffing, workload and available space.

The report said: "Staffing shortages are covered with bank staff and existing staff working additional hours within safe standards. The escalation policy is appropriately implemented when required.

"An active recruitment programme is in place, but delays in the process and availability of midwives nationally can lead to a hiatus between staff leaving or vacancies being advertised and the staff being in post."

As well as a concentrated effort to recruit midwives, there is work going on to retain staff, the report added.

More midwives are needed to meet the 2016 Better Births report, which has Continuity of Carer as a key element, and the national ‘pool’ of available midwives is currently reduced as all trusts in the country are facing similar challenges.

Earlier in 2021 Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors found improvements at West Suffolk Hospital's maternity service since a warning notice was served regarding safety risks to patients.