NHS England moves to offer better wellbeing support and assess staffing levels welcome says RCM

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The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has welcomed a move by NHS England (NHSE) to improve support around burnout and stress for maternity and neonatal staff. This latest move is a part of the Three year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services published in March. NHSE has also committed to looking afresh at maternity staffing levels.

In a letter this week to senior managers in maternity NHS England has committed to additional funds of £11,000 for every maternity service to increase the number of Professional Midwifery Advocates (PMAs). This role helps staff with wellbeing support and restorative clinical supervision. This model of supervision enables staff to process their feelings about their work and focus on their learning needs and development, with a positive knock-on effect on their wellbeing and clinical practice.

“NHS staff are its greatest asset and everything possible must be done to support them to do their job to the best of their ability. Everyday they go above and beyond, but this comes at a price. The impact of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of midwives and maternity support workers was significant. On top of this the stresses of working in a service that is often understaffed and under resourced will inevitably leave staff exhausted, burnt out and fragile,” said Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director Midwife at the RCM. “The RCM has been at the forefront of supporting midwives and MSWs through its Caring for You programme. However, we cannot do it alone and need to see employers and governments step up and do more. This latest initiative is welcome and will add to the support and resources available to staff.”

A RCM member survey published in June starkly showed the pressures at the front line. Over two-thirds who responded (64%) felt burnt out or exhausted at the end of most or all of their shifts. A quarter (26%) also reported feeling burnt out or exhausted at the end of every working day.

Staffing levels are also a focus of the letter from NHSE. The RCM recently updated its national midwife shortage figure for England with maternity services now 2,500whole time equivalent midwives short of the numbers needed; a rise of 500 on the previous shortage figure. That is why the RCM has welcomed a commitment in the letter to get an updated picture of workforce levels in maternity services through a ‘refresh’ of the maternity workforce census. Crucially, NHSE commits to finding out what the current funded workforce is but also to compare this with what the real demands are shown in Birthrate+ reviews. Senior midwifery managers have been asked to complete the census form that comes with the letter and return it to NHS by 5 September.

“I urge senior midwives to complete and return the census so that we can get a real picture of the situation across the country and so that we can move closer to getting the staffing levels needed,” said Birte.