Midwives working for the NHS in England may give an estimated 100,000 hours of unpaid work per week collectively in order to keep maternity services safe, according to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
A survey asking just under 4,000 RCM members about their workplace in the first week of March this year found that almost nine in 10 (88%) midwives had worked unpaid additional hours, with a quarter working five or more extra hours a week.
From these responses the RCM estimated that, during the first week of March, midwives worked 100,000 extra hours unpaid.
The report also found that maternity services in England were consistently understaffed, impacting safe staffing levels.
The number of midwives in England, according to the RCM, has not grown with the demand on services. There is a shortfall of 2,500 full-time midwives in England, with the latest figures showing 10,000 more births across England between 2020 and 2021.
Out of the midwives who responded to the survey, 87% said that their maternity units were not safely staffed in the week they were questioned. This figure rose as high as 90.4% of staff in the worst affected area of Yorkshire and Humber.
Likewise, three-quarters (74%) of respondents said that they always or often faced unrealistic time pressures or workload.
Dr Suzanne Tyler, executive director (trade union) at the RCM, said that this latest data was further evidence that ‘the midwife shortage is worsening’, adding that ‘we still have no NHS workforce plan to address it’.
The survey revealed the impact that increasing pressure has had on the wellbeing of maternity staff, as over two-thirds reported feeling burned out or exhausted at the end of most shifts.
A quarter of all respondents to the survey reported feeling burnt out or exhausted at the end of every working day.
Dr Tyler said that staff were ‘desperate’ to plug workforce gaps but were now ‘at the limits of their endurance’.
‘The chancellor has previously agreed with us about the lack of staff and need for investment in maternity services,’ she added. ‘Now is the time to put his hand in the Treasury pocket and give maternity services the funding that is so desperately needed; for the sake of women using them and the staff caring for them.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The NHS is already one of the safest places to give birth in the world and we are grateful to all midwives and maternity support workers for what they do.
‘We have invested £165m a year since 2021 to grow the maternity workforce and are promoting careers in midwifery by increasing training places by up to 3,650 over the past four years.’