Midwives to protest again
A year on from a national call for change, local midwives will be hoisting their placards again
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By Sarah Ward
“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 can’t continue because we know it compromises safety and means women don’t always get the safe positive pregnancy and birth experience that they should.” The Royal College of midwives
This Sunday, midwives, their health colleagues and parents will gather at the statue in Abington Square, Northampton, a popular protest point, to highlight what many see as a crisis in maternity services.
The march comes one year after the first national March With Midwives, in which thousands took to the streets demanding change, for staff, expectant mothers and parents.
But many say little has changed for the better in the past 12 months, rather it has worsened.
The grassroots campaign group March With Midwives issued a recent statement which said:
“Maternity services across the UK are in a state of emergency. Since records began in 2009, the number of NHS midwives has fallen in England year on year leaving an overworked and under-resourced workforce, putting women and birthing people in danger. A year after the 2021 March With Midwives, in which 16,000 midwives and supporters took to the streets to show their concerns about the dangerously low staffing levels, demands have not been met and midwives' working conditions and pay are now declared as a state of emergency.”
On July 25th 2022, the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s Panel declared there is “no credible government strategy to tackle the situation” in maternity care.
What the campaign group wants is for the government to recognise the situation as urgent and begin crisis management. They say promises are not being kept and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Maternity must take responsibility for their silence and call for immediate action.
The campaign group says:
“It is clear that maternity services in the UK are in crisis, giving birth in the UK; a high-income country, is becoming critically unsafe. This is unacceptable. Where we have women, birthing people and babies at risk; their families, communities and countries become sick. This is a genuine national emergency which impacts every level of society.”
Members of the Royal College of Midwives are currently being balloted about whether they want to take strike action. If they do, they will be joining their nursing colleagues in deciding that industrial action is the way forward after repeated calls for better pay and working conditions.
Becki Scott, a doula from Mawsley, has been involved in organising Sunday’s protest action.
“I would say it is an absolute crisis. Some people may say I'm exaggerating, but I have heard from midwives, from those accessing the service and through my own work I have witnessed it first hand.
“The midwives are always run off their feet. They are working wards that are at times severely understaffed. There were women on last year’s march who were leaving because of mental health issues. They were burnt out because of stress. And I’m speaking to student midwives who are concerned about entering the service.
“Last year there were lots of people who would not speak up because they were scared of what might happen. But we have gone past that. There are just so many issues.”
The protest takes place in Abington Street from 2pm to 4pm.
The local situation
In the wake of the Ockendon review, which found that more than 200 babies had died unnecessarily in Shropshire due to maternity service failings, maternity services across the country were given recommendations about how to improve.
The county’s two maternity wards in Kettering and Northampton have been working on the recommendations to improve their services and bring them in line with recommendations.
This spring the county’s midwifery service recognised there was a staffing problem in the county and deputy director of midwifery for both general hospitals Mara Tonks said retired midwives were being asked back to the hospitals to help out junior staff.
But the staffing issues exist. The report of the last board meeting of Northampton General Hospital in September said:
“Maternity staffing: concerns regarding reducing staffing levels had been identified, with vacancy levels being monitored . . . At the time of the July meeting there were 50 unavailable midwives.
“The maternity service continued to experience pressure due to increased demand and acuity, COVID impacts upon women and teams and ongoing staffing shortages in maternity; processes were in place to manage escalation and mitigate risks.”
Kettering General Hospital’s board paper pointed to more midwives speaking out about concerns:
“Maternity staff have spoken up for the first time during 21/22 and this is in direct response to a number of new Maternity FTSU Champions together with promotion of speaking up by the Deputy Director of Maternity.”
Read our piece from last year in which an under pressure Northampton midwife and a new mother talked about their experiences of the county’s maternity service.
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