New Survey - Burn-out fears for UK midwives

By RCM on 14 March 2018 Caring For You campaign

Excessive workloads and lack of resources are leading to burn-out and high stress levels in midwives and other maternity staff according to a new survey from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). The survey is part of the RCM’s Caring for You campaign and follows a similar survey by the RCM in 2016.

Worryingly only a quarter (26.6%) of respondents said they take their entitled breaks most or all of the time. This is an improvement from the 2016 Caring for You survey when only 21% of respondents said they take their entitled breaks most or all of the time. This still means the almost three quarters of midwives are not taking their entitled breaks.

Another concern is that over half (56.6%) of respondents felt dehydrated at work most or all of the time because they don’t have enough time to drink. Again this is an improvement on the 2016 survey but this remains a worrying statistic. 

Equally worrying is that the number of respondents working unpaid hours has increased. In the 2016 survey 17% of respondents said they worked five or more hours extra every week unpaid. This has now increased to nearly a fifth (19.4%)   

Work related stress levels have also worsened. In the 2016 survey 64% said they had felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last twelve months. This has increased to 65.9%.

The three most common reasons for feeling stress are workload (78.7%); staff shortages (75.2%); and not enough time to do the job (70.0%). These reasons are unchanged since the 2016 survey and suggest a service remaining under-resourced and under-staffed.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “There have been improvements since our 2016 survey which shows that our Caring for You campaign is working and making a real difference to the working lives of midwives and maternity support workers. This is a huge achievement thanks to the efforts of our health and safety representatives, stewards and RCM branches who have worked in partnership with heads of midwifery to tackle local issues.

“The situation for many midwives is still worrying and does not support them to deliver safe and high quality care. This is a real concern for the RCM and it should equally be a concern for employers and the Government.  The RCM will continue to campaign for better working conditions for midwives and maternity support workers. The lack of staff and resources will, and does affect the care our maternity professionals can deliver and this must change.”

The Caring for You campaign started in June 2016. One of its key objectives was for health trusts and boards across the UK to sign up to the RCM’s Caring for You Charter. Signing the Charter committed employers to improving the workplace health and wellbeing of midwives, maternity support workers and other maternity staff. This in turn would enable them to deliver even better care for women, babies and their families. In total 133 NHS organisations signed up to the RCM’s Caring for You Charter which is 81% of the total number of organisations in the UK.

The full Caring for You Survey 2017 report can be downloaded at the Publications section.

To contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email

Note to editors

About the survey: In November 2017 the RCM conducted a  survey of members (including midwives, maternity support workers and students) to ask their views about the Caring for You Campaign and asked them about their health, safety and wellbeing. In total there were 673 responses.

The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at



Comments from Midwives and Maternity Support Workers who completed the survey

“The Caring for You Campaign has definitely improved staff breaks and matrons are more likely to ensure breaks are taken”.

Midwife, England

“We've had chances to review our working patterns as part of service redesign and I think the Caring for You Campaign influenced that”.

Midwife, England

“The Caring for You Campaign has made conversations around health and wellbeing at work more openly discussed and staff feel more confident to air their concerns”.

Midwife, England

“Staff are still foregoing breaks as it is too busy to take them. Our staffing levels are below recommendations. I have heard of staff falling asleep and having accidents on their journeys home from work”.

Midwife, England

“In our organisation we have Caring for You clinics. Staff members enjoy these and everyone feels they can bring up any issues they have and they know they will be listened to and acted upon”.

Midwife, England

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“Staff are still foregoing breaks as it is too busy to take them. Our staffing levels are below recommendations. I have heard of staff falling asleep and having accidents on their journeys home from work”.

Midwife, England

“I worry about the amount of staff who are currently away from work suffering from stress. I feel it is not being addressed by senior management as an issue”.

Midwife, England

“The understaffing and excessive workload makes my job stressful and is wearing me down slowly. I worry for my mental health as well as my physical health. We have multiple team members who have been midwives for over ten years but have left or are on sick because of mental health issues because of how bad things have been lately”.

Midwife, England

“I feel a lot of the time that I cannot give the care I want to give as it is too busy and I am only giving basic care. This then causes me stress and anxiety because I trained to be a midwife to make a difference to women and I don’t feel I can do that most of the time. This makes me feel very sad”.

Midwife, Wales

RCM members said:

“In my organisation health, safety and wellbeing is poorly prioritised. Staff do not feel valued. We are expected to work at a ridiculous pace with excessive workloads and poor staffing. All whilst dotting all the i's and crossing the t's. It is not possible or sustainable to continue working this way”.

Midwife, England

“Staff shortages and recruitment issues make the job impossible. The standard of care given to families has reached an all-time low. Staff are receiving a constant barrage of texts and phone calls on their days off to come into work. Staff are working days and nights in same week with little rest days in between. On-call staff are expected to work a full day, go home to rest for few hours and then come in to work the night which is clearly unsafe. Managers are not managing as they are just working clinically to bring the numbers up. There is no work-life balance anymore”.

Midwife, England

“I am seriously considering leaving the profession due to the shift patterns and length of shifts and the demands are too excessive. Midwifery has become to physically and emotionally draining. I am currently pursuing different ways to get out especially because our current pay does not reflect the responsibility placed on midwives”.

Midwife, England