NHS staff strike: Standing on the picket line makes this the saddest day of my life

We midwives have talked about strikes before, but this is the first time we have felt cornered

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The Independent Online

I have worked as midwife since 1974, rising through the ranks to head of service, although I am now a semi-retired consultant midwife. I began at the end of the ‘call the midwife’ era, and the NHS is the only employer I have ever known.

So to find myself standing on a picket line outside my hospital is the saddest day of my life. I never ever thought that it would come to this. We always thought that midwifery was a valued part of the NHS – not special, but valued.

I’ve been a Royal College of Midwives member for 40 years. We’ve talked about strikes in the past, but now we feel cornered. We feel there is nowhere else to go but to appeal to the public..

The dispute has been triggered by the Government’s refusal to implement the 1 per cent pay rise agreed by the pay review body. Most midwives have had their pay frozen for two years, and in that time they have seen other health service professionals do considerably better. The profession has now become totally demoralised.

My pay has been frozen for four years, but I’m a senior so I’m on more than most. I’m nearly 63, so for me today’s strike is not about the money. It’s about protecting the future of the profession and the choices of women who rely upon the service provided by midwives.

We can still recruit midwives but we simply can’t keep them at these rates. And if there aren’t enough midwives, we will lose the ability to give women the chance to give birth in a natural way. There will be more ‘medicalised’ births.

Doctors don’t give the same type of touchy-feely care that a midwife can. It is the midwives who nurture women in labour for 12 hours, and without us the quality of ante-natal care in hospitals would deteriorate. We don’t want women to lose their choice over areas like home births because simply there aren’t midwives available.

I hope the public doesn’t see us as greedy. We have guaranteed that no woman who needs the service at University College London Hospital today will be put at risk by today’s action, nor will any babies. Between us on the picket line, we have ensured that everyone will be properly looked after.

If this strike doesn’t work there will be a work-to-rule. I’m not a political person and I have no party axe to grind. I see today’s action more as a protest rather than a strike. But the Government just will not listen, and when they refuse to listen we have a problem. Midwifery within the NHS has always relied upon goodwill. We all work a lot more hours than we are paid for and the service means an awful lot to the public. Surely a sensible Government would surely not want to put all that goodwill at risk?

Astrid Osbourne is Consultant Midwife and Supervisor of Midwives at University College London Hospital

She writes in a personal capacity and her views do not express those of UCLH