RCM calls for action on staffing shortages and protecting pregnant migrant women in TUC Women’s Conference motions

on 09 March 2023 Midwifery Midwives Midwifery Workforce Maternity Services NHS Government MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Midwife Shortage Midwife Training Equality and Diversity Expectant Mothers Immigrant Women Pregnancy Postnatal Care Safety Staffing Levels Wellbeing Of Women Women's Rights Women's Choice Maternity Safety Antenatal / Prenatal

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says the Government must fix England’s maternity staffing shortages which are hitting the safety of care, choice for women, and staff wellbeing. The call comes in an RCM motion to the TUC Women’s Conference today in the week that celebrates International Women’s Day.

Staff shortages also impact crucial ongoing training for midwives and maternity support workers (MSW), which is critical to the safety and quality of care says the RCM. The RCM motion calls on the Government to implement the recommendations from the 2022 Baby Loss and Maternity All Party Parliamentary Groups report. This asked for workforce planning to be based on the needs of women, time for staff to deliver more personalised care, and safe staffing levels. A national strategy is also needed to support recruitment and retention of staff it said.

This worsening maternity crisis is pushing demoralised midwives to leave the profession rather than face exhaustion, burnout, and dissatisfaction at not delivering the best quality care. A RCM survey in 2021 showed that over half of RCM members were considering leaving their job as a midwife, with 57% of those thinking of leaving within a year.

“Our members are running simply to stand still as demands increase and staffing levels fall. They are frightened of making mistakes because they are so exhausted and under pressure. Despite this, day after day they continue to go above and beyond. They are often working extra hours often without pay to ensure safe care for women,” said Lynn Collins, the RCM’s Director, Field Services. “This is a terrible situation to put dedicated maternity staff in, it does women a disservice, and the buck stops firmly on the desk of the Prime Minister. It is successive Conservative governments who have caused this situation by their failure to invest in maternity services and the wider NHS. It is they who need to fix it and we need decisive and concerted action from them now to sort this mess out.”

In another motion the RCM also calls for better protection for pregnant migrant women by reforming England’s dispersal and NHS charging policies. Many women are at risk of fractured care, or falling out of the system, from the Government’s dispersal policy because they could be moved to another town or region at any stage of their pregnancy. The RCM’s motion calls for this to be prevented after 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

The Government’s NHS charging policy must also be scrapped says the RCM because many migrant women fear they will have to pay for care. This leads them to delay accessing care or avoid it altogether for fear of the cost, and can affect the safety of their pregnancy and baby if they do not get the care they need.

“These flawed policies are stopping many women from walking through the doors of our maternity services and getting the care they need. The impact can be damaging and potentially disastrous for them and their baby,” said Jayne Bekoe, the RCM’s Head of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. “This is a factor in the significant and worsening inequalities we see in our maternity services. We have been raising this issue for some time, but we have a Government who do not seem to be listening. They must act urgently to change these policies and to protect these women so that they get the safe and consistent care they deserve and should get.”

For information on the RCM’s equality and diversity work and resources see Equality and Diversity (rcm.org.uk).

See also the RCM’s Race Matters web pages at Race matters (rcm.org.uk).

See also Publications (rcm.org.uk)

See also Disappointing and puts lives at risk says RCM on high court migrant women maternity charging ruling and Midwives cannot act as gatekeepers to NHS maternity services’ says RCM on Maternity Action report'.