Poor access to fluids on maternity units is affecting maternity staff health says RCM

on 09 August 2021 Midwives NHS Covid-19 MSWs - Maternity Support Workers NHS Staff Maternity Services Maternity Safety maternity care assistant Caring For You campaign Mary Ross Davie

With summer temperatures and maternity staff still required to wear more personal protective equipment (PPE) than before the pandemic, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is calling for common sense from NHS Trusts and Boards around access to water and other drinks. The College is concerned that the health and wellbeing of staff could be in jeopardy as a result of having limited opportunities to stay hydrated on often long shifts. A survey of RCM members in 2020 showed that over half (52%) say they feel dehydrated most or all of the time when at work.

Midwives, student midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) have reported that Trusts and Boards do not allow staff to have fluids with them on units and they are so busy that they cannot take a break to have a drink. Maternity staff across the UK have reported that they often go for 11 or 12 hours on shifts unable to have a drink because of work pressures. The RCM has also been receiving reports of staff having to go off sick with urinary tract infections and the effects of dehydration because they are not getting enough fluids.

Dr Mary Ross-Davie, Director for Professional Midwifery at the RCM, said: “Every maternity service in the country is under pressure, whether from long-term staff shortages, COVID-related absence or because more and more women are being admitted with COVID and require more intense levels of care. As a result, many midwives and maternity support workers are simply not able to take a break to take on fluids. Some Trusts and Boards have banned water bottles in clinical areas, which  means that our members are often going 12 hours with no break and no water. We are appealing to those services to apply common sense, to recognise that this application of infection control is misguided and to look after the health and wellbeing of their staff.

In new guidance to its members, the RCM sets out the importance of staying hydrated on shift and the potential implications of not doing so. These include an impact on decision making, memory, attention span, mood and tiredness. It also debunks the myths suggesting that having fluid bottles on maternity units is a cross infection risk.

Dr Mary Ross-Davie added: “This is not only about the wellbeing of our members, it’s also about the safety of care. Dehydrated staff may not be making the best decisions around the care they are delivering. Even mild dehydration can start affecting performance and can lead to errors. We are appealing to senior maternity staff to look at their unit and to work with our representatives to find solutions to this pressing issue.  There are great examples out there of employers tackling this problem and solving it, proving it can be done when the will is there.”


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

Notes to editor



 The Royal College of Midwives (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.