Midwives and patients warn of ‘devastating’ staff shortages

As an Independent article by an exasperated midwife goes viral, mothers, patients and other NHS professionals come forward with their own experiences of maternity care

Health Reporter

“Exhausted, frustrated and dissatisfied, so that I am not able to the good job I know I am capable of doing”.

The words of one midwife, writing in The Independent yesterday, have struck a chord with colleagues across the profession who today warned of the devastating impact that the midwife shortage is having on patient care and professionals’ own wellbeing.

Writing anonymously, an NHS midwife explained that, after 10 years in the profession, staff shortages and work pressures mean that she can no longer carry on working regular 13 hour shifts, often with only three or four midwives to care for 28 women and 16 babies at any one time.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) called the account “depressingly familiar” and condemned the Government for failing to act on warnings that the NHS needs thousands more midwives, while readers contacted The Independent to recount their own experiences on Britain’s stretched maternity units.

On Twitter, Sheena Byrom, a midwife for three decades, said the article was “tragic” but a “reality for so many”, while Aimée Humphreys, a student midwife in London, said that the article was “sad” and that she knew other midwives who were considering quitting. Another midwife, Karen Evans, said that the article was being shared by members of the profession on social networking sites, adding: “We all feel the same.” 75,000 people were referred to the article on The Independent’s website, via social media sites.

One midwife, who also asked not to be identified, said the job had become “soul-destroying”.

“I have a family and have to work full time, but there is no flexibility for me, my on-calls are 16 hours and between working days too. Last time I got called out, I was awake for nearly 21 hours straight. I definitely wasn't safe, but so we got told, other [NHS] trusts do it.”

There was also evidence that shortages are increasing pressure on other maternity ward staff. Julia Ward, a trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology, said that “patient expectations and demands” were increasing “as resources are reduced”.

A maternity ward healthcare assistant said that she had left her hospital after 12 years, commenting: “We were permanently down by 125 hours staffing a week. We were not allowed to leave the ward during our break on many occasions as there was no member of staff to cover us in an emergency. The workload was huge and we would often have to work the postnatal ward, labour ward and run in maternity theatre all on our own.”

Patients also responded to the piece. One mother said that she had “nearly died” during labour, and had been “barely attended”. “This has helped me to make sense of why,” she said. “I had no idea midwife staff shortages were that bad.”

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said the article was a “damning and saddening indictment of the way the NHS has let staffing levels in maternity wards drop dangerously low” and called for a review of safe staffing levels on maternity wards.

A report by the National Audit Office in November last year said that England has 2,300 fewer midwives than it needs. The national birth rate hit 40-year highs in 2011-12 and increases in the number of midwives have not matched increased demand the RCM says, adding that about a third of maternity units did not have enough staff and that one in five units has had their budgets cut.

Suzanne Tyler, the RCM’s director of services to members, said that 87 per cent of midwives had told the college they regularly worked for longer than their contracted hours, often for two to four hours extra. “When that becomes something that happens week in week out it starts to take a toll on the midwives and the quality of the service they can provide,” she said.

The Department of Health has said that said that “a record 5,000” more midwives are currently in training and set to qualify in the next three years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT)

    £100 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are active...

    Calling All NQT's

    £100 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are active...

    General Cover Teacher

    £100 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Secondary Teachers of all sub...

    Helpdesk Team Leader / Manager

    £45000 per annum + pension,medical: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable gl...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game