Midwives warn NHS underinvestment ‘brutally exposed’ by pandemic

on 13 September 2021 Covid-19 NHS Staff Maternity Services Maternity Safety Safety NHS Funding Funding Midwives MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Midwife Shortage

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) called for more investment in the NHS and other public services in a composite motion to the TUC Congress yesterday. The RCM says this is the minimum required to put right a decade of austerity and underinvestment which has been ‘brutally exposed’ by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. The motion was passed without opposition.

In its motion, the RCM highlighted the massive staffing challenges facing the NHS, including a shortfall of around 2,000 full time midwives in England alone. The impact of staff shortages have been laid bare by the pandemic, with many maternity services stretched to the limit. The RCM has already raised concerns at the impact this may have on the safety of both staff and pregnant women. An RCM survey late last year found that eight out of 10 (83%) midwives and maternity support workers do not think their NHS Trust or Board has enough staff to ensure safe services.

Jon Skewes, Executive Director for External Relations at the RCM, said: “The RCM and other health unions and organisations have been warning about serious staff shortages and the need to invest more in the NHS for a decade or more. These warnings have gone largely unheard and the impact of this has been brutally exposed by the pandemic. It is only through the incredible dedication, innovation, and skill of staff that these challenges have been met as well as they have. This really should be a colossal red flag for the Government to finally sit up, take notice and put money where it is needed, and quickly.”

Staff burnout has been a challenge in maternity services for many years, but it has been accelerated and exacerbated by the demands of the pandemic. Retention of experienced staff has largely been ignored by successive governments, with the emphasis placed almost solely on recruiting new midwives. While bringing more midwives into the service is both needed and welcome, the RCM has warned that it is the equivalent of running the taps in a bath while the plug is out. Increased pressure coupled with pay rates that have failed to keep pace with inflation could result in many more NHS staff, including midwives, leaving. In a 2020 survey by the RCM, seven out of 10 (71%) said they were considering leaving the profession, with over a third (38%) seriously thinking about it.

Jon Skewes added, “There is too much reliance on the goodwill of staff to battle through no matter what, to the detriment of their health and wellbeing, and ultimately to the quality and safety of care they can deliver. This is not sustainable, this is not acceptable, and this must change. We must safeguard our NHS, our public services and their staff, and right now this is not currently happening.”

The RCM has also made an amendment to a Chartered Society of Physiotherapy motion on COVID recovery and rehabilitation. This calls on the TUC Congress to campaign for staff wellbeing and recovery, including access for staff to mental health and psychological wellbeing services.  The RCM will speak to this motion in the ‘Recover and rebuild: A post-pandemic plan for public services and safety at work’ debate.


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

Notes to editor

For more information on the TUC Congress visit Welcome to Congress 2021 | TUC.

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.