Perinatal mental health support impacted by shortage of midwives

By Lydia O'Neill on 07 December 2021 Perinatal Mental Health Maternal Mental health Scotland Scottish Government NHS Scotland Scottish Maternity Services RCM Scotland

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) today called on the Scottish Government to deliver consistent investment in maternity recruitment, development and wellbeing. The call came as its Director of Professional Midwifery, Dr Mary Ross-Davie, gave insight to the Scottish Parliament Health Social Care and Sports Committee, which is looking at the Scottish Government’s inquiry into perinatal mental health support for women and families.

Dr Ross-Davie said: "We need to have consistent investment in midwives to be able to provide real evidence-based and quality perinatal mental health support. We need to better support midwives to get the time, skills and training to be able to provide adequate support during pregnancy. So that involves time and training to really focus on prevention of the development of significant mental health problems and to support women and families’ wellbeing during pregnancy."

Mary noted that the chronic and persistent shortage of midwives has been exacerbated by the pandemic. As a result, many maternity units are struggling with staffing levels, putting additional pressure on staff and resulting in burnout, as evidenced by the RCM’s recent survey of members’ experience.

She added: “One of the approaches to providing better perinatal mental health support, particularly for women living with a range of vulnerabilities and challenges, is definitely continuity of carer, which is one of the mainstays of maternity policy in Scotland. This has been delayed partly by the pandemic, but it has also been significantly affected by the chronic shortage of midwives across Scotland, which needs to be addressed urgently.

”In Scotland, we now have very few consultant midwives. They, along with specialist perinatal mental health midwives, have a key role in improving perinatal mental health support for women. Their role can include birth reflection clinics, talking to women about traumatic birth experiences and preparing them for subsequent births, as well as staff training and developing evidence based effective care pathways. Developing and recruiting more consultant midwives and specialist perinatal mental health midwives should be a key area to focus on for the improvement of perinatal mental health care.”

Mary made it clear that, for the Scottish Government to ensure consistency of care, there has to be consistency in staffing levels which leans into consistent investment in recruitment, development and wellbeing of staff. She highlighted the need to ensure that every midwife in every part of Scotland is able to have time, in working hours, to undertake continuing professional development, including in the area of perinatal mental health and trauma informed care.