Midwives ‘at breaking point’ quit jobs leaving maternity wards understaffed

New data shows the total midwifery workforce fell by 410 last year down to 26,779 in January – and this is after ministers admitted it was already 2,000 midwives short

The number of midwives is going down

Midwives “at breaking point” are quitting in droves new data shows in the week a damning report revealed the biggest maternity scandal in NHS history.

Short staffing was a key factor in two decades of poor care linked to the deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers in Shrewsbury.

New data shows the total midwifery workforce fell by 410 last year down to 26,779 in January – and this is after ministers admitted it was already 2,000 midwives short.

The Royal College of Midwives polling shows only one in 17 midwives report there being enough staff for safe care on their maternity ward. This is down from almost one in five.

Donna Ockenden is chair of the Independent Review into Maternity Services at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust



RCM director Alice Sorby said: “It is absolutely shocking to see the impact understaffing is having.

“We have warned the Government time and time again that midwives, maternity support workers and all those working in maternity services are at the end of their tether, that they are physically and emotionally burned out.

“For far too long too many staff have been plugging the staffing gaps, and the Government has been cashing in on that goodwill.

“Maternity services cannot be run on the cheap, and certainly not by relying on staff working beyond their paid hours. “It’s not safe and it’s not sustainable.”

This week’s Ockenden report revealed 201 potentially avoidable baby deaths, including 131 stillbirths and 70 neonatal deaths at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust.

There were a further 29 cases of severe brain damage and 65 cases of cerebral palsy linked to poor care. Nine women were also found to have died following mistakes.

The Mirror revealed short staffing meant community midwives were brought in to deal with the most complex cases, and midwives were “told off” for calling more senior medics by pulling the emergency buzzer.

Midwife numbers have been gradually falling ever since the Government wrote to the Health and Social Care Committee to say the NHS was almost 2,000 short of the number needed last April.

RCM polling shows more than half of midwives now think about leaving their jobs at 52%, up from 36% last year.

In every question relating to intentions to leave their profession, midwives were significantly ahead of the NHS average.

Two thirds report feeling “regularly burnt out” and a similar proportion said they felt “exhausted at the thought of another understaffed shift”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid


Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Ms Sorby added: “This week’s batch of figures show that the midwifery workforce is under-resourced, under-paid and under-valued.

“The blame for that sits squarely at the Government’s door. The RCM has been raising this for well over a decade and been ignored by successive Health Secretaries.

“It is time Sajid Javid sits up and takes notice, because midwives and maternity support workers are at breaking point.”

A key Ockenden recommendation is that safe midwife staffing levels be enshrined in the NHS which would require between £200 million to £350 million of additional annual funding.

The NHS has so far been granted £127 million.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS is investing £127 million in maternity services in the next year, on top of £95 million invested into the recruitment of 1,200 midwives and 100 consultant obstetricians.

“Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of staff, including midwives, remains a key priority and the NHS continues to offer a broad range of support, including via mental health and wellbeing hubs.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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