A highly-critical report last month downgraded the service from requires improvement to inadequate.
It found the service ‘did not have enough maternity staff with the right qualifications, skills, training and experience to keep patients safe from avoidable harm and to provide the right care and treatment’.
In front of a health scrutiny panel on January 14, health bosses apologised unreservedly.
They said they had been aware of problems with the service for three or four years, but that their aim was to be rated as ‘good’ by this time next year.
Part of the problem was that they had historically calculated how many staff would be needed by using a ‘per birth’ figure, but that this didn’t take into account the fact that more births are becoming more complex, and therefore taking up more staffing time.
Before the inspection last October, the trust recalculated what staffing levels it needed once more complex births were taken into account, and was found to be 73 midwives short.
Keith Girling, medical director, said: “I want to start by acknowledging that the CCQ report was very distressing for all of us to read, and as a trust we are very sorry for the care we have delivered to women in our maternity unit, where the care was below that which you would aspire to give.
“We were very chastened to read of the inadequate standard of care provision.
“The report has been taken extremely seriously by the organisation.
“We recognise that the CQC found a significant number of areas of concern, particularly focussed around staffing, training, assessment of ladies and the care they have had in our maternity services.
“We are very sorry to the ladies who have experienced that care, and we are also very sorry to the staff who have been under extreme pressure, and we are also mindful that this will have caused significant anxiety to those women who are due to be using our services in this next period of time.
“We are working very hard to put into place immediate measures to provide assurance to women that their care remains safe.
“We have taken immediate actions to ensure day-to-day safety
“We fully expect the programme of work, including the recruitment and the improvement plans will take a number of months to fully manage, and correct the issues the CQC has identified.
“We have an ambition that within 12 months we will be able to report that the maternity service has moved from inadequate to good.
"That is what we have set ourselves as a challenge and expectation.
“We have had concerns around our maternity unit for some significant period of time, over probably three or four years, and we have been making a number of interventions over that time to support the teams, and to review and increase staffing.”
Sarah Moppett, interim chief nurse at the trust added that while the report had been ‘devastating’, progress had already been made, and there were now twice-daily ‘safe today’ checks, designed to ensure short-term safety for patients.