RCM champions better support for workplace stress in new guidance

on 10 November 2022 Midwifery Midwives RCM Pay

As numerous surveys continue to highlight how stressed midwives and maternity support workers (MSW) are in the workplace, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), has published new guidance to help its members recognise and manage their own stress.

The guidance is aimed at helping individuals identify their own stress triggers. It also gives support to colleagues and managers by helping them to recognise stressed staff and offering guidance on steps they can take to assist them. RCM activists can also use it to help address stress issues in maternity services. It joins the growing collection of resources the in the RCM’s online hub.

“We know that many midwives are now at breaking point. They are mentally and physically exhausted and fragile because of years of being overworked and undervalued. Their efforts during the pandemic are just one recent example of the constant demands on them,” said Alice Sorby, the RCM’s Director for Employment Relations.

“Staff that are overworked and stressed cannot deliver high quality care. We must support them to reduce their stress levels, through championing investment in the root causes, such as staff shortages and in methods to support stress reduction. Governments and employers must invest more in their staff and in support for their wellbeing, because staff that feel valued will deliver the best care.”

High levels of stress are adding to chronic workforce shortages, with midwives and MSWs having to take sick leave in order to address their mental health. England alone has a shortage of over 2000 midwives and this is worsening monthly putting even more pressure on overworked maternity staff. The 2021 NHS Staff Survey reported that a staggering 66.3% of midwife respondents have felt unwell because of work-related stress in the last 12 months.

The guidance by the RCM outlines ways for midwives and MSWs to recognise when they are suffering from stress, how to cope with it, resources they can use and where to get support.  For RCM workplace representatives there is advice on how to support members, working with managers and employers to improve workplace wellbeing.

There is also detailed information for managers, such as heads of midwifery who also have a key role to play. This includes how to collect information about their unit to assess whether there is a problem with workplace stress. The role and responsibility of the employing organisation is also covered with advice and resources for them.

Alice added: “When stress is allowed to develop and grow without people getting the support they need or employers taking action, the effects can be serious and long lasting for staff and on care for women, babies, and families. That is why this guidance is so important in supporting how organisations, managers and RCM activists can work together to reduce workplace stress.”