Comment

Cathy Warwick: overstretched midwives can no longer keep maternity services afloat

A recent survey revealed that midwives are leaving the profession to escape excessive workloads. Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick says the government and the NHS must act.
midwives

A recent survey revealed that midwives are leaving the profession to escape excessive workloads. Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick says the government and the NHS must act

Midwives are working harder than ever before. With a rising birth rate and a shortage of 3,500 midwives, professional burnout and stress are increasingly common. We simply cannot continue as we are relying on overstretched teams to keep our maternity services afloat is not good enough. We know Royal College of Midwives (RCM) members have never felt so challenged in their ability to provide high-quality care to women and their families.

Last week the RCM published Heads of Midwifery, a survey that highlighted the pressures placed on midwives across

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A recent survey revealed that midwives are leaving the profession to escape excessive workloads. Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick says the government and the NHS must act


Many midwives say they have left or intend to leave the NHS because they
no longer feel supported to provide quality care. Picture: iStock

Midwives are working harder than ever before. With a rising birth rate and a shortage of 3,500 midwives, professional burnout and stress are increasingly common. We simply cannot continue as we are – relying on overstretched teams to keep our maternity services afloat is not good enough. We know Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) members have never felt so challenged in their ability to provide high-quality care to women and their families. 

Last week the RCM published Heads of Midwifery, a survey that highlighted the pressures placed on midwives across the UK. For example, due to staffing shortages, we are seeing more and more maternity services suspended or reduced.

We also launched Why Midwives Leave, a report based on a survey of 2,000 midwives across the UK who have left the profession in the past two years or are intending to leave in the next two years.

The right reward 

Their reasons for leaving the profession are deeply saddening and dispiriting. I read the comments of the midwives in the report with increasing distress and concern, for them and for mothers and babies. Many midwives said they have left or intend to leave because they no longer feel they can give the quality care that women deserve.

Maternity services are performing as well as they are on the back of the selfless dedication of midwives and maternity staff. Enormous demands are being made of midwives and the services they work for, yet the government's investment in these services remains inadequate.     


Cathy Warwick has called on the government to break the 1% pay cap. 

Why Midwives Leave sets out recommendations to stem the flood of leavers and turn the situation around. NHS organisations should review their maternity staffing levels using a recognised workforce planning tool to ensure staffing reflects the workload and immediately address recruitment and retention issues. The government must end public sector pay restraint, break the 1% pay cap and allow the NHS Pay Review Body to make unfettered pay recommendations to ensure that midwives are fairly rewarded for the job they do.

Take action

It should also re-think its plans to abolish the bursary for midwifery students and introduce tuition fees – these plans are bound to have consequences for the numbers of students training to be midwives.  

There is another big threat on the horizon, a threat that could worsen the existing midwife shortage. In England, we have more than 1,000 NHS midwives who come from elsewhere in the European Union. They are people our maternity services desperately need. We are, frankly,  lucky to have them and we should be saying ‘thank you’.

If the UK government decides they cannot stay, England would go from being 3,500 midwives short to almost 5,000. It would be toying with the lives of people who go to work every day to provide care and support for pregnant women and new mothers.

I am calling on the government and the NHS to take note of our concerns and recommendations, listen to the voices of front line maternity staff who have left the profession, and take action now to keep all midwives in midwifery.


Cathy Warwick is chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives

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