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Midwife found guilty of misconduct – where was her support?

Midwife found guilty of misconduct – where was her support?

My week

I appreciate that this may come a little late, but to all a belated Happy New Year! On New Year's Eve most people are looking forward to a new beginning and a new set of resolutions, which they may or may not keep. Sadly, for Catherine Farmer-Mair, the new year will not be so bright.

Ms Farmer-Mair is the midwife whose professional career was brought to an end when she was found guilty of misconduct. The Bro Morgannwg Trust explained that she had arrived for work smelling of alcohol and behaving somewhat bizarrely, "talking loudly and giggling", as one commentator exclaimed. Heaven forbid that people should be talking loudly and giggling in the workplace! This was not an isolated incident.

In my opinion the most worrying factor of this case is that the trust admitted that these episodes had been allowed to continue for the past six years. Please do not think for one minute that I condone or support such behaviour. Midwives are in a very privileged position and anything that can compromise this position or the safety and wellbeing of a mother and her child must be dealt with in accordance with the midwives' rules and standards.

Ms Farmer-Mair was found guilty in her absence. She had 28 days to appeal, and there is the argument that if she was not guilty of misconduct, then she should have attended the hearing to prove her innocence and give a reasonable and credible account of her actions. The fact that she failed to appear almost proved her guilt by default.     

But my question is: where was her "support" network? The trust had apparently supported her for the past six years, but what form did that support take? Was her apparent drinking due to immeasurable pressure and stress? It is reasonable to question why her local supervisor of midwives could not empower a person who is apparently approachable, trustworthy, empowering, sympathetic and encouraging to change her lifestyle and give some thought to her professional responsibilities and standing in the community. Was the support offered and not accepted, or was it simply adding to the problem?     

I, along with countless others, dreamt about becoming a nurse from a young age. On the one hand there is no better "family" to belong to, but on the other hand it can be a very lonely place to be in. Are we treating one another as we should? Or is there a small populous who have reached the dizzy heights of middle and upper management who view "support" as a stick to beat the rest of us with?            

The NMC recently sent out a glossy booklet entitled Modern Supervision in Action – a Practical Guide for Midwives. The book is well written and gives midwives a step-by-step guide into the differing areas of support for the profession, from the Local Supervising Authority (LSA) and its structure to what midwives can expect from their supervisor. There are a number of case studies that focus on supervision and how midwives can embrace supervision in order to develop and underpin their own practice. However, in reality this all depends on how the person reading the booklet interprets "supervision". In my experience there are some supervisors of midwives who do not share the qualities outlined in the booklet and appear to use the word "supervision" and "support" in place of the word "bullying".      

The profession has come under some serious criticism of late. I apologise for starting the new year off with a blog that is not more visionary, but I am passionate about nursing and passionate about being a nurse and midwife.

On paper midwives have a cutting edge support network in the form of supervisors of midwives and their LSAs, but with so much coming to the forefront in recent times I wonder whether it is time to go back to the drawing board and find out why things are still going wrong, and more often than not with devastating outcomes for both midwives and the women they care for. Why are so many midwives leaving the profession? Is it the support that they are receiving or is it the implementers of that support that are causing this attrition?       

Related stories:

Midwife found guilty of misconduct

Midwife denies anaesthetic error

NHS midwifery quality varies across England

Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"There is risk in whatever job or career an individual embarks but simply to go with the thought  “there for the Grace of God go I” is simply not just. Midwives should have the proper support – not bullying dressed up as a fairy Godmother. Perhaps it is time for midwives to stand up and be counted until this acceptance of the current culture within midwifery is questioned and more importantly changed. The cycle will continue long after any of us are stopped practising" -  Name and address supplied

"The midwives' position sounds similar to other nurses.  In recent years I have seen pressure building up on colleagues to do more work with less staff and virtually no support. Risks are taken in clinical practice where it is obvious to all that 'accidents are waiting to happen'. When they inevitably do, no one dares speak up for fear of losing their job. My experience is included in an article discussing this - Vere-Jones E (2007).  The whistle-blowing dilemma. Nursing Times 103, 30, 16-17"  - V Jones

"Midwives are put under ever increasing pressure by their Trusts; they are expected to work without breaks in positively dangerous conditions. There is no support at the end of the day, despite having a supervisor of midwives, they can do little, or are unwilling to do speak out against the culture that midwives are finding themselves working in. Ultimately, the conditions are an accident waiting to happen. I worked a shift whereby a midwife did make an error, and controlled drugs were left unattended, however, when the midwife was confronted about it on her next shift, the co-ordinator said that they would not fill in a report, as they did not want it to "get out". The midwife concerned said she would have preferred an accident report to have been completed, as it would have highlighted the shortage of midwives on the shift, and the pressures that they were working under. In my experience, midwives either accept the risks and hope that it doesn't happen to them, or they leave midwifery" - Name and address supplied

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