On Sunday afternoon, I joined midwives in our NHS to march on Parliament and highlight the emergency facing UK maternity care. Most people in modern Britain owe our lives to a midwife but failures to address chronic staff shortages and invest in maternity services now leave staff facing unmanageable strains. Midwifery services are at breaking point, with shortages of more than 2,000 midwives in England alone. For every 30 midwives that train to enter the profession, 29 are leaving or never entering the workforce and 57 per cent of midwives surveyed last year were considering leaving the NHS.
As the Royal College of Midwives has said: “Not a day goes by that we don’t hear of a maternity service having to close temporarily, suspend services or divert women to other maternity units just because there simply aren’t enough midwives.” This is having an undeniable impact on midwives’ ability to deliver the high standard of care mothers deserve.
This retention and recruitment crisis is inseparable from the Tories’ casual degradation of NHS workers over the last 12 years. According to analysis from the Trades Union Congress, midwives’ pay is down by £5,657 in real terms since the Tories took power, falling by £1,564 this year alone. As pay has fallen in real terms year on year, so has the number of midwives, increasing the burden on those who tough it out and placing mothers at greater risk. Meanwhile, as many as 30 per cent of all mothers rate their birth as traumatic.
There is a mistaken belief that people should put up with lower pay in exchange for undertaking meaningful work. The situation facing midwives shows this sacrificial logic hurts staff and the public services they keep running.
The Government can’t say they weren’t warned. A year on from last year’s ground-breaking March with Midwives, nothing has changed. After the Royal College of Nurses voted to strike for the first time in their 106-year history, the Royal College of Midwives is balloting this autumn. As so often, industrial action seems to be the only way to make this Government listen.
It doesn’t need to be this way. All midwives want is the resources to do their job safely and provide care. The Government must find a way to close the staffing gap and ensure midwives can deliver the level of care that we deserve.
This article was first published in South London Press on 25th November 2022.