Seven out of 10 midwives experience abuse from women and partners during pandemic, says RCM

on 20 November 2020 NHS Staff Maternity Services Midwifery Safety Staffing Levels Midwife Shortage Covid-19

Seven out of 10 midwives have experienced abuse from pregnant women, their partners and families due to changes to attendance rules during the pandemic, according to a survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). Changes have been introduced in most maternity services to reduce the risk to women, their babies and to staff of the COVID-19 infection coming into maternity units and hospitals. However, in some cases even the most basic compliance, like partners wearing a mask, has led to confrontation and abuse.

Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director for Professional Leadership at the Royal College of Midwives, said:

“Now more than ever, keeping everyone safe has to be a priority. That applies to pregnant women, their babies and, of course, the maternity staff taking care of them. We understand how upsetting it can be not to have your partner or support person with you for appointments, but there is no excuse for abusing midwives and their colleagues.

“Every midwife wants the women in their care to have the best possible birth experience – but they also want that experience to be safe. That’s partly about reducing pregnant women’s exposure to the virus. It’s also about reducing the risk to staff, particularly when we already know that many services are experiencing staff shortages because of COVID, with eight out of 10 midwives  saying they do not have enough staff to operate a safe service .” 

Midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) have reported a catalogue of abuse, very often from partners. A major concern is visitors refusing to wear masks when inside the maternity unit. Others have become abusive when, during labour, they are told they cannot leave the unit for a cigarette. In one instance, a midwife reported that a birth partner jumped over a security gate so he could leave the unit. Explaining to visitors that, the size of rooms and the inability to social distance, is another significant trigger for abuse of maternity staff. 

One midwife said:

“Women feel we are robbing them of the maternity care they want. They are angry and feel we do not understand. No matter how much we try to explain some women and families can be incredibly verbally abusive. This is soul destroying. We are trying our best, but not everyone sees that.”

There have been some positive outcomes of fewer visitors to maternity wards. Over two-thirds (68%) of RCM members said it improved rest and recuperation for women, with a similar number (62%) citing an improvement in bonding between mother and baby.

Birte Harlev-Lam added:

“Maternity services are open. They have remained open throughout the pandemic, providing good, safe care and support to the women in their care. Most midwives are working unpaid beyond their contracted hours because they want to maintain that care. They don’t deserve to be treated like this.”


To contact the RCM media office call 020 7312 3456 or email [email protected].

Notes to Editors

The survey was conducted online from 28 October to 8 November 2020. There were 1400 responses, predominantly from England (Wales: 58; Scotland: 144; Northern Ireland: 76).

See also an earlier media release based on the survey results highlighting midwives’ fears for the safety of maternity care due to staffing shortages at


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


Survey Comments from Midwives

‘on facebook the attacks have been relentless on us around visiting restrictions, this has made me and the team of people who administrate the page really stressed’

‘Some partners have sneaked into buildings to try and force themselves into scan rooms and refuse to wear masks. It has been a challenging time having to deal with aggressive and abusive partners… where I work there is no security and so admin/clerks and midwives feel very vulnerable’.

‘Partner to women (one with a cough) refusing to have a covid swab (I was in a delivery room with this couple for over 8 hours) leading to fear from myself. I presume he thought he may have covid and that was why he refused test.’

‘We have midwives who are extremely anxious and were previously shielding, or pregnant, or from a BAME background who are exposed to multiple people every day, unable to maintain social distancing with little or no control of their situation.’

‘sworn at when I asked a partner to wear his mask… during his wife’s labour.’

‘Partners aggressive when asked to leave a waiting area that is reserved for patients so that

social distancing can be adhered too. Particularly important as other women feel intimidated by too many people in the waiting area and by those not adhering to wearing masks and


‘I have been verbally abused. Another colleague was physically abused by a patient's mother. I also see a lot of written abuse on our maternity Facebook page, local page etc. It does not seem to be dealt with seriously.’

‘Verbal aggression and social media outbursts. Not understanding that the restrictions are there to protect both the families we care for and us (as staff). It angers me when people stare that they can go to a pub with their partner so why not to a small antenatal room where it is doubling the potential exposure to not only myself but for the other families around them (door handles, bathrooms, waiting areas).’

‘midwives are loving the bond they are now having with women when there isn't as many

visitors. there is more privacy for the mothers, vulnerable mothers don't feel as isolated in the maternity setting with the reduction in the number of men in the wards.’