Words by Maisie Levitt, Online News Editor
On Sunday the 21st of November, health workers, midwives and parents protested across the UK over an increasing staffing and safety crisis in maternity services. The March with Midwives “grassroots action for solidarity” protests took place in 50 towns and cities and were described as a “vigil for maternity crisis”.
Campaigners request politicians and health officials to “listen to staff and service users, fund emergency retention of staff and reduce demands” on midwives. Cardiff organiser Katie Falvey said “Maternity services are at a crisis point and we need to fight.”
Protest organisers also described the state of maternity services in the UK as being “critically unsafe” due to the staff shortages as well as lack of funding.
The protests have come as a result of a survey, done by the Royal College of Nursing, which found that more than half of midwives were being “driven out” because of “understaffing and fears they can’t deliver safe care to women”. The midwifery body’s UK-wide poll revealed that 57% out of 1,273 midwives planned to leave the NHS within the next year. Chief executive Gill Walton said “we are fighting a losing battle” due to inadequate numbers of staff and called for health officials to “urgently review” these staffing levels.
Katie Campion, an ante-natal educator and the Leeds protest organiser, said that not only are the marches for the wellbeing of maternity staff, but “it’s about the safety of the birthing women” as well.
A survey done in 2020 by the Royal College of Midwives also found that 8 out of 10 midwives (83%) did not believe that their NHS Trust or Board had enough staff to operate a safe service. 42% also reported that half of shifts were understaffed, with a third saying that there was a significant gap in most shifts. 7 out of 10 (71%) of these midwives were found to have considered leaving the profession due to these shortages leaving morale extremely low.
Due to understaffing, many midwives reported to have worked overtime. The same survey found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of midwives continued to work beyond their contracted hours without any additional pay. As a result, only 2% said that they felt valued by the UK government.
Although the government has stated that the number of registered midwives in the UK is currently at an all-time high, “for every 30 in training, 29 leave the profession or just never even make it”, said post-natal doula Grace Williams at the Torquay protest.
The Royal College of Midwives has called for more investment into the NHS. The Welsh government has said that it had commissioned a review into service demand, while the UK government has pledged £95m for recruitment. The aim is to hire an additional 1,200 maternity ward staff.
The staffing and care crisis has been seen in maternity units throughout the country. There is currently a review under way into Nottingham maternity services after a reported 46 babies suffered brain damage and 19 were stillborn in between 2010 and 2020. In 2020, inspectors described Nottingham City Hospital’s maternity units as “inadequate” and the Care Quality Commission raised concerns that included staffing.
The UK government has said that it is “committed to patient safety, eradicating avoidable harms” in order to make the NHS “the safest place in the world to give birth”.