Midwifery care is in crisis thanks to staff shortage, say WI and NCT

Half of women who have been in labour experienced red-flag event linked to staffing, says Women’s Institute and National Childbirth Trust report.
Facebook Twitter WhatsApp Email Share
Midwife and pregnant woman

Half of women who have been through labour experienced a red-flag event linked to staffing levels, says a report by the National Childbirth Trust and Women’s Institute.

New mothers reported a variety of problems linked to midwife shortage Photo: Press Association

The study by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is based on a survey of 2,500 women who have given birth since 2014.

It found a lack of staff leaves some women frightened, with half experiencing at least one red-flag event, defined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as being a warning sign that something may be wrong because not enough midwives are available.

‘Conveyor belt care’

Some women responding to the survey said they were made to feel like cattle or like they are on a conveyor belt as a result of midwife shortages.

Problems include delays of an hour or more in washing or suturing, medication doses being missed, delays of 30 minutes or more in receiving pain relief, or lack of one-to-one continuity of midwife care and support during established labour. 

Other findings include:​

  • 89% of women saw up to six midwives during their pregnancy, with most seeing between up to four.
  • 88% of women had not met any of the midwives who looked after them during birth, although 52% said this did not make a difference to them, mainly because of the professionalism of the midwives caring for them.
  • But 12% said this made them feel alone and vulnerable, and 6% said it made them feel unsafe.

Several women wrote about feeling like ‘cattle’ or ‘a machine’.

One said: ‘I received very robotic care. It wasn’t very personal and I felt like just another person on the conveyor belt.’

Unplanned home birth

Another pointed to staffing issues, saying: ‘My chosen hospital ward and adjoining birth centre were extremely busy, or so I kept being told on the phone, which resulted in me having an unplanned home birth.’

Once women had given birth, almost one in five (18%) said they did not see a midwife as often as they needed. Of these, 36% said this caused them great concern and a further 32% said it caused them a small amount of concern.

Some 31% of women said diagnosis of a health problem was delayed because of a lack of care following birth, and 29% said they had to go to their GP, A&E, or walk-in centre.

Problems with feeding the baby was the most-cited concern, followed by the desire to speak to a midwife about emotional and mental well-being, and problems with stitches and sore nipples.

Chronic shortage of midwives

National Federation of Women’s Institutes public affairs chair Marylyn Haines Evans said: ‘This report shows that chronic midwife shortages, an estimated 3,500 in England alone, continue to undermine the delivery of high-quality care for women and their families.

‘Half of the women we spoke to reported red-flag events during their care, suggesting that staffing levels are at crisis point.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘There are over 1,500 more midwives on our maternity units since 2010, and more than 6,300 currently in training, with our changes to student funding creating thousands more training places by the end of this parliament.’

Read the report here

In other news:

New dementia clinic helps staff care for their loved ones

Nurse pay looks set for parliamentary debate after petition tops 100k signatures