The NHS is facing a growing maternity crisis as chronic staff shortages and low wages drive midwives and midwife assistants away from the professions, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned the Government.
‘The crisis we warned of is upon us’ was the RCM’s message to the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) as the union’s survey directors and heads of midwifery finds that staffing pressure appear to be worsening.
The Union submitted a shortened statement of evidence to the PRB for the 2023-24 period, as the RCM is one of a number of health unions protesting against the PRB’s handling of last years pay review.
However, the evidence submitted by the union suggests troubling trends amid the maternity services with the RCM placing the blame squarely on the lack of a satisfactory pay rise for NHS staff.
Dr Suzanne Tyler, RCM executive director, said: ‘Our worst fears about where we saw maternity services heading are becoming a reality and the fault lies squarely at the door of successive Conservative Governments.
‘Chronic understaffing is hitting the morale of midwives and maternity support workers (MSW) and the safety of care. They are leaving in droves and the Government must plug this worrying leak as a matter of real urgency.
‘Improving pay, more investment and increasing the workforce are crucial to building back our shattered maternity services. The Government must do that now and it can start with giving maternity staff the inflation busting pay award they deserve.’
The survey found that 72% of the midwifery leaders interviewed said that they had struggled to fill vacancies in their units, with a third saying that this was ‘very difficult’.
A further 72% reported calling on bank or agency staff nearly everyday, nearly a quarter say that this happens multiple times a week.
The reduced staffing numbers is putting midwives under extreme pressure according to the RCM. Out of those surveyed 78% said that it was difficult or very difficult to ensure staff could take their breaks or leave on time.
According to the union, this overwhelming pressure is due to decades of pay erosion by inflation with the average midwife having lost £56,000 in real earning since 2008 according to the Trade Union Congress.
The RCM is currently engaged in an ongoing pay dispute with Westminster and the Welsh Government and will be balloting members in Norther Ireland on strike action later this month.
The union insisted that its submission of evidence to the PRB ‘does not mean that 2022/23 pay dispute is settled’ nor that the outcome of the PRB would be accepted by the union.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth for all mothers, and we are working closely with the NHS to continue improving the quality of care for mothers and babies with support teams for trusts.
‘We have invested £127 million to grow the workforce and improve neonatal care – this builds on top of £95 million to establish posts for an additional 1,200 midwives and 100 consultant obstetricians.’