I am writing to express my concerns about the validity of the recent standalone inspection of Stroud Maternity Unit.

It does not seem justifiable to inspect our maternity unit in isolation from the wider Trust systems and staffing models that it operates within at a time of shortage.

The reason our much admired postnatal beds have been temporarily closed is precisely because SMU have a fluid staffing arrangement across hospital sites to ensure safe care at all times. Singling out Stroud fails to acknowledge these Trust-wide workforce issues.

The CQC report acknowledges that it does not have a remit to look at how 'caring, effective or responsive the service at SMU is'. It strikes me these are the exact three criteria that are of most importance to birthing women.

"The midwives at Stroud Maternity Unit were incredible. They made me feel so comfortable and supported throughout my labour in the birthing pool. It was a truly empowering experience, and I'm eternally grateful for their expertise and compassion." – Testimony shared by recent SMU mother.

We must be cautious about sensationalising minor issues identified in this inspection that do not reflect the very strong and careful care that women consistently report receiving in SMU. Any prospective mother considering whether the Stroud Midwifery Unit experience is right for her should meet with the midwives who work there, look at the many weekly Instagram features about healthy babies and their happy, safeguarded families.

They should not subject themselves to nitpicking about housekeeping issues and use-by-dates.

The part of the report that pertains to the connections the midwives build with the wider community is not backed up by empirical facts. The report says they need to do more! This is a unit that has inspired the League of Friends to reallocate funds to diversify the pre and postnatal programming.

It is a unit where myself and other volunteers are made welcome, and absolute transparency of practice is shared. It is hard not to think that the report must be misleading about apparent failings in other areas, when their descriptions of this community outreach aspect are so fundamentally at odds with the lived experience of Stroud.

The scenario mentioned, regarding ambulance transfers is a nationwide issue that the entire NHS is grappling with. It sounds as though - as always - the midwives were doing all they could to advocate for the needs of their patients within this difficult landscape.

We campaigners have been assured many times that the Midwifery Unit will remain open, and the M.P. for Stroud continuously seeks restatement of that promise at the higher levels of the NHS Trust.

Our pressure group has been assured that it is precisely because of the strong public sentiment surrounding the unit that it will not be closed.

So long as the unit remains a place of choice that holds the public imagination as a 'home from home', it will not close. This petty report risks undermining public confidence by focusing on inconsequential details rather than evaluating what truly makes women feel safe and supported during birth.

We at Stroud Maternity Matters were asked to slow the public attention on the post-natal ward bed closures to help ensure footfall, so that the unit would never face the risk of full closure, and now this unhelpful report seeks to undermine public confidence in the asset Stroud has always known to be precious. The message from the top has always been 'use it or lose it'. Perhaps something disingenuous is going on when the very mechanisms that should help a workplace to improve actually undermine its future? We need only look at Ofsted to know that we should be sceptical about top-down assessment structures.

Let me reframe the report and give you a list of positives anyone would choose for their birth: "worked together well", "learned lessons", "Commitment to continual improvement", "people could access the service when they needed it and didn't have to wait too long for treatment". Given the conditions under which the midwives must operate, these seem like huge wins.

I urge you to read this report holistically, identifying the many positives about the dedicated staff and woman-centred care model in Stroud. A reductive analysis that takes issues out of the wider context does a disservice to our unit and may unnecessarily alarm our community of expectant mothers.

Kate Buckingham

Chair of Stroud Maternity Matters