Merseyside midwives suffering from PTSD and facing ‘unreal pressures’ in job - protests planned
Midwives across the Liverpool City Region are gearing up to join grassroots action in cities across the UK to protest over a “crisis” in maternity services.
Merseyside is due to link with over 50 sites on Sunday, 21 November, as part of a peaceful vigil organised by the March with Midwives group.
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.
Almost 60% of midwives and maternity support workers surveyed 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 this 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.
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”.
The group also claims that “bullying and toxic hierarchical” management systems are “stifling innovation, silencing whistleblowing and causing psychological harm”.
They are calling on the Government to:-
● Listen to all staff and service users and their advocates
● Fund emergency retention of staff
● Enable all qualified midwives who are willing to work and support students to enter training and finish their courses
● Reduce the demands on staff
A Google map created to show locations where March with Midwives vigils are due to take place includes Derby Square in Liverpool and Henley Park, Whiston.
Merseyside midwife ‘scared to go to work most days’
Midwives across the Liverpool City Region have revealed to LiverpoolWorld why they are taking part in Sunday’s vigil.
The midwives and a midwifery student, who wanted to remain anonymous, are all at different stages in their careers. They described a broken system and called for immediate support.
One said: “I’m taking part in the vigil because women and midwives alike deserve better than this.
“Birth trauma is a common consequence of a broken maternity system, brought on by years of chronic underfunding and exacerbated by the pandemic.
“I am scared to go to work most days because I know I will face more staff shortages, more harm to women and babies and it doesn’t seem there is an end to it.”
Another explained: “I have post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed by my GP due to the stress and trauma I have experienced as a result of my job.
“I just want to care for the women and families, but the job has just become impossible in recent years. I am looking for a way out.”
One midwife said she entered the profession to make a difference, but despite trying her best she is not always able to give the standard of care women and families deserve due to a lack of staffing and resources.
She said: “I work within a fantastic team who try our best every single day, although we very often find ourselves having to work with no breaks and have to stay well past our shift time ends in order to fulfil the service demands.
“This causes huge stress levels and we often find ourselves waking in the middle of the night worrying about what we may have missed or that we may not have carried out a task to the level of satisfaction that we set out to do.
“In addition, we also suffer guilt due to not having enough quality time with our own children and families causing even more stress, and unfortunately more and more midwives are going off sick with stress related issues and burnout; leaving us even more short staffed.”
She said many student midwives fail to complete their training after witnessing first hand the stress midwives face: “Enough is enough now, I love my job and my amazing team but we need help and support now.”
Another midwife said: “I am marching to highlight the struggles that the whole maternity system in the UK is going through. These struggles have been here long before the pandemic, however they have been made worse with the extra pressures of COVID-19.
“The pressures are unreal.”
Midwife Elsie Gayle, a March with Midwives steering group member who works across the Midlands, said although some maternity environments were operating well, many women were sharing their trauma and fears about the services they were receiving.
She said: “Midwives are struggling, through shortages of staffing, work overload and the inability to work well. Many continue to leave. This cannot go on, and so the March with Midwives movement is calling for rapid and robust improvements now.”
The RCM has published guidance for members asking those planning to attend the vigils to do so in their own time and not during working hours.
RCM, Executive Director for External Relations, Jon Skewes said: “For years, maternity services have been operating with too few staff and inadequate resources.
“NHS Trusts and Boards have relied on the goodwill of staff, and their genuine love of what they do, to maintain services – but staff are reaching the end of their tether.
“The UK and national governments have to do more, not only to train and recruit new midwives into the NHS, but to retain the ones we have.
“Staff are frankly exhausted, many feel like they have nothing left to give – and services are suffering as a result.
“We’re grateful to March with Midwives for highlighting the work we have been doing to get politicians and policy makers to pay attention to this untenable situation.”
Nurses also warn of patient safety risk
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) released a report on Monday, 15 November, setting out ten unsustainable pressures on the health and care system in England.
The RCN, which represents over 450,000 nurses, warned that patient safety is at risk as huge pressures could engulf services in coming months.
They include record emergency waiting times, ‘dangerously high levels’ of hospital bed occupancy and rocketing sick days among nurses.
The NHS in England recorded over 88,417 more sick days among nurses and health visitors in June 2021 compared to June 2019.
The Government response
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There are now record numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives working in the NHS.
“We are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament and we are increasing the maternity workforce further with a £95 million recruitment drive to support recruitment of 1,200 more midwives.
“Our record investment is helping to tackle the backlog and recover NHS services with an extra £2 billion this year, plus £8 billion more over the next three years to deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans, and operations for patients across the country.”