Midwives skipping breaks and working overtime

By Alice Sorby, Employment Relations Advisor on 20 August 2020 Maternity Services Covid-19

Today we have published the results of an RCM members survey which ran in June, hopefully you have seen the media release and maybe even responded to the survey! We repeated some of the questions from our Caring for You campaign survey in 2016 and found that little has changed in lots of areas. Midwives and maternity support workers are still working extra unpaid hours, feeling dehydrated, skipping meals and delaying using the toilet.

During the initial Covid-19 period almost 40% of you worked three or more hours unpaid overtime each week with over 20% of those working five or more additional hours each week. We also found that 87% of you delay using the toilet due to lack of time, over three quarters skip meals including over a quarter who do so always or most of the time. Over half of you feel dehydrated most or all of the time at work. I bet none of this comes as a surprise to you, it probably even feels normal, but it shouldn’t!

The RCM welcomed the publication of the NHS People Plan 2020 and accompanying promises including for staff to have "clean safe spaces to rest and reflect, and access to hot food and drinks, including fresh water". Promises must be followed with action though and we continue to push nationally for more midwives and safe, healthy workplaces. Why not speak to your local RCM Workplace Representatives about revitalising the Caring for You campaign? With a national focus on the health, safety and wellbeing of NHS staff now is a great time to do it.

Pay is also intrinsically linked to this, fair pay is key to satisfaction at work, the results of this survey show just how hard you work in busy often short-staffed maternity units. Its evidence like this along with our annual Heads of Midwifery survey that helps us to build our supporting evidence for an early pay rise in the NHS. Fair pay is vital for the future of maternity services ability to recruit and retain staff.

This is why since July when as one the 14 trade unions that make up the NHS Staff Council when we wrote to the Prime Minister and Chancellor to open talks in England and bring forward an early pay rise, the RCM has kept up the pressure on politicians across the UK. Any funding for an NHS pay rise in England from the UK government would mean equivalent money for NHS pay across the UK through the Barnett Formula.

The RCM along with the other trade unions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are also looking to start discussions with the relevant governments. We want you to get involved too so we have created this 'how to guide' to help you write effectively to your local politician whether you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England – let us know how you get on!

We are coming to the end of the three year pay deals across the UK, though over the three years the increases were some of the best in the public sector and the structural reforms have ultimately created a fairer pay system with increased starting and promotion pay and faster progression to the top of the pay band, they did not make up for years of lost pay under austerity. We know that for those of you already at the top of the pay band this was felt even more keenly.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the incredible work NHS staff do all year round, which is why we want to bring forward an early substantial consolidated increase not a one off COVID-19 bonus.

We don’t know yet how pay will be determined in the NHS, though it looks likely it will be through the NHS Pay Review Body. What we do know for sure is that the RCM will keep pushing for this to be a substantial increase brought forward before next April and for any decision made by the NHS Pay Review Body to be free from government restriction. Now is not the time for austerity 2.0, ultimately investment in the NHS benefits the wider economy.