Kim Johnson speaking at a March with Midwives protest in Liverpool. Image @KimJohnsonMP/Twitter
A Liverpool MP has called on the Government to fix England’s “broken maternity care system” amid claims of a shortage of 2,500 midwives.
Kim Johnson, MP for Liverpool Riverside, spoke at a March with Midwives vigil in the city in November joining midwives across the Liverpool City Region and the UK as part of grassroots action to protest over a “crisis” in maternity services.
In June this year, Liverpool Women’s Hospital (LWH) admitted the national shortage of midwives, coupled with issues such as staff sickness, had impacted services at the Trust.
LWH’s midwifery led unit had to close temporarily at certain times and said during periods of significant pressure at the Trust women might be advised of the need to transfer care elsewhere.
Ms Johnson said: “Some appointments needed to be rescheduled, too, causing distress and anxiety to mums-to-be.
“Liverpool Women’s have subsequently recruited more midwives, but if the pressures nationally do not decrease, they face a similar situation in future.”
Maternity services overstretched
An LWH spokesperson said that since the beginning of September, 32 new midwives have joined the Trust and they have an additional 11 midwives currently going through the recruitment process alongside a rolling recruitment for midwifery vacancies.
Ms Johnson said: “Even before the pandemic, our midwives were over stretched and undervalued.
“Now, we are dealing with an estimated shortage of 2,500 midwives – causing unprecedented pressure and damaging the quality of care our midwives are able to provide.
“In July, a government report called for urgent action to improve staffing shortfalls – including demands to increase the budget by £350 million per year for maternity services.
“For every 30 newly qualified midwives, 29 are leaving. Eight out of every ten midwives are reporting that they don’t have enough staff on their shift to provide a safe service. This is a crisis.”
Quality of care and exodus of staff
A report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) this year revealed that 37% of maternity services in England were rated as requiring improvement.
Ted Baker, the CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, stated that “safe high-quality maternity care should be the minimum expectation for all women and babies”.
In October, a report from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) warned of an exodus of midwives from the profession as a result of understaffing.
A total of 57% of midwives and maternity support workers considering leaving the profession said they would leave the NHS within the next year, with the RCM warning that there is already a pre-existing shortage of 2,000 midwives in England alone.
A further report by MBRRACE-UK published last month showed mortality rates during pregnancy and childbirth among black women in the UK are four times higher than white women and twice as high among women from Asian backgrounds.
Racial disparities in healthcare
Ms Johnson is a supporter of the Five X more campaign - which is committed to improving the maternal healthcare of Black women - and has launched a joint initiative with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to tackle racial disparities in healthcare.
She told LiverpoolWorld her concerns about current health inequalities throughout England which have been magnified by the pandemic.
She said: “We are now deep into a pandemic that has laid bare the pervasive health inequalities that exist throughout our country.
“We have seen clearly that race, class, housing, education, income and employment all directly define someone’s chances of survival.
“After over a decade of austerity – it is no surprise to see these figures worsening, these inequalities widening.
“And behind every statistic, and every top line, there lies a human story.
“And behind each story, many, many more who are suffering because this government won’t face up to its responsibilities and provide the resources needed to keep mothers and babies safe and healthy.
“This government says it recognises that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the most important – so how can it justify not fixing our broken maternity care system?
“We know the root of these problems lie with pressures on staff. We need immediate action to address this crisis.”
Financial support for midwives
The former social care worker who was Liverpool’s first black MP, has backed calls for an immediate pay rise for all midwives and financial support for student midwives and an overhaul of existing recruitment and retention policies.
She said: “I have spoken out in Parliament in the Five X more campaign debates and often in support of more funding across the NHS to ensure we have sufficient staff at all levels to provide the service we all need.
“Women living in the most deprived areas were three times more likely to die than those living in more affluent areas.
“Social services are involved in the lives of 20% of the women who die in childbirth.
“I will continue to support the demands from the midwives.”
What happened at the March with Midwives protests across Merseyside?
Merseyside linked with over 70 sites on Sunday, 21 November, as part of a peaceful vigil organised by the March with Midwives group.
March with Midwives was set up in October by a group of doulas, who support women through labour and birth. They warn that giving birth in the UK is becoming “critically unsafe”.
One of the rallies in Merseyside took place in Henley Park, Whiston.
A midwife who took part but didn’t want to be named, told LiverpoolWorld: “The march was really well attended by a broad range of people, from qualified midwives to students, from children to grandparents.”
She said: “There was a minute’s silence to reflect and honour the work that midwives and birth workers do and a round of applause to recognise the achievement of continuing to work in such difficult circumstances.
“There was an air of solidarity and coming together and midwives and women alike shared their experiences, both negative and positive.
“Attendees displayed placards and encouraged members of the public to sign a petition for the government to look into the current crisis.
“The march is only the beginning.”
March with Midwives has already launched a manifesto and is preparing a briefing about the current crisis.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said there were “record numbers” of midwives, nurses and doctors working in the NHS and the recruitment of 1,200 more midwives would be part of a £95 million recruitment drive.