Government undervaluing midwifery workforce is ‘No joke’, says RCM
It may be April Fool’s Day, but the undervaluing of the midwifery workforce by this Government is no joke. So says the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) as official workforce figures show the number of midwives has fallen yet again. On top of this, the NHS Staff Survey published this week shows there is little to laugh about.
Over half (51.9%) of the midwives surveyed said they often think about leaving their job. According to the RCM this figure has ‘grown considerably’ since the 2020 survey. And that sentiment is borne out by official NHS workforce figures published yesterday, which show that England has 410 fewer midwives now than at the same point last year, which is topped off by an already existing shortage of over 2,000 midwives.
Similarly, nearly two-thirds (63.1%) of the respondents said they regularly feel burnt out because of their work, with the same number reporting regularly feeling exhausted at the thought of another understaffed shift. Understaffing levels and workplace pressures are taking their toll on midwives, with a staggering two out of three (66.3%) midwives saying they have felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months. The survey also revealed dangerously low levels of morale among midwives in England, with seven out of 10 (71%) of midwives saying they find their work emotionally exhausting, almost double the national average of 38%.
Only 5.9% of midwives said that there are enough staff at their maternity service for them to do their job properly. That’s a huge fall from the 18.4% giving the same answer in 2020. Given the findings of the Ockenden Review that understaffing contributed to the safety failings at Shrewsbury & Telford Hospitals NHS Trust, the RCM is deeply concerned that Government inaction is putting women, babies and maternity staff at risk.
Commenting, RCM’s Director for Employment Relations, Alice Sorby said:
“This week’s batch of figures show that the midwifery workforce is under-resourced, under-paid and under-valued – and the blame for that sits squarely at the Government’s door. The RCM has been raising this for well over a decade, and been ignored by successive Health Secretaries. It is time Sajid Javid sits up and takes notice, because midwives and maternity support workers are at breaking point.
“It is absolutely shocking to see the impact understaffing is having on RCM members. We have warned the Government time and time again that midwives, maternity support workers and all those working in maternity services are at the end of their tether, that they are physically and emotionally burnt out. For far too long too many staff have been plugging the staffing gaps, and the Government has been cashing in on that goodwill. Maternity services cannot be run on the cheap, and certainly not by relying on staff working beyond their paid hours. It’s not safe and it’s not sustainable.”
The RCM’s own analysis of the NHS staff survey has revealed that a shocking 83.4% of midwives reported working additional unpaid hours for their organisation – an increase on 2020’s 79%, and more than 25% above the national average for NHS workers.
At a time when maternity staff have never felt so undervalued, the Government has dealt another blow by removing free parking for all NHS staff today (1 April). This comes just days after the Government announced that the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday on 3 June will be designated as an additional annual leave day, rather than a bank holiday. This means that, despite the RCM calling for this bank holiday to be classed as an additional public holiday and paid under Section 13.4 of Agenda for Change, those required to work will instead be paid at plain time (normal) rates. These two announcements reinforce to maternity staff that they are simply not valued by the Government.
“Morale among midwives and maternity support workers is at an all-time low. They don’t feel valued by their employers, and they definitely don’t feel valued by the Government. The Government says they want to invest in the midwifery workforce, but we see precious little action, and the staff survey results and the workforce figures bear witness to that. The Government needs to set out a clear, costed action plan of how they intend to improve things. Our research has shown us that when midwives physical and mental wellbeing is supported, staff involvement and retention increases, motivation and performance levels increase and outcomes for women improve. The RCM believes investment in the health and wellbeing of maternity staff is an investment in care for women and their families.”
To contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email [email protected].
Notes to Editors:
- Maternity underfunding means care based on what trusts can afford not on women’s safety and needs says RCM
- RCM Position Statement on Safer Staffing
- RCM response to Ockenden review into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford
- Government must fix maternity staffing crisis to ensure safety RCM tells TUC Women’s Conference
- Stem the tide of midwives leaving the profession, RCM tells Downing Street
- NHS Workforce Statistics - December 2021 (Including selected provisional statistics for January 2022) - NHS Digital
- Results | Working to improve NHS staff experiences | NHS Staff Survey (nhsstaffsurveys.com)
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 | A professional organisation and trade union dedicated to serving the whole midwifery team.