Supporting staff health is key to keeping them in the workforce

By Tara Kaufmann, Policy Advisor, RCM on 07 December 2022 Maternity Services Midwifery Workforce MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Health and social care Government Human Rights Caring For You campaign Cavell Nurses' Trust

Following the latest report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on public health, RCMs Policy Advisor Tara Kaufmann shares the importance of health support for the maternity workforce.   

We’re all familiar with the NHS workforce crisis. And the social care crisis and the economic productivity crisis. All three are fuelled by the UK’s high rates of economic inactivity, which have yet to recover from the pandemic. Around 2.5 million people – the highest since records began – are economically inactive because of long term illness. Three-quarters of these have multiple long-term conditions.

Improvements in population health have stagnated in the UK and may be beginning to reverse. Among younger adults, mental health problems predominate. In midlife and older adults, it is problems with the heart, respiratory system, legs, backs, knees and hands. Unsurprisingly, long-term sickness is higher than average in the health and social care sectors. Shockingly, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) claims that if the rate of long term illness in these sectors was brought down to the levels seen in education, this could have meant 15,000 extra, qualified staff working in health or care today.

The relevance for maternity care is clear. Midwifery can be a physically demanding and stressful job, often resulting in musculo-skeletal problems, exhaustion and burnout. As a largely female workforce, midwives are more vulnerable to the effects of the menopause, and they are often unpaid carers for older and younger family members. Despite flexible working, reasonable accommodations and a supportive work environment being strongly needed, they are often lacking. No wonder so many midwives are retiring early, or just leaving the profession.

The IPPR argues that the UK faces a choice: poor health could be a persistent barrier to a strong and fair labour market, or good health could be a keystone of prosperity. It argues that policymakers need to focus on primary prevention, responsive and high quality healthcare and social prevention, including action to reduce social barriers to economic activity for people with disabilities or health conditions.

The RCM’s Caring For You campaign is treading similar ground. It argues that when staff wellbeing is supported, employee motivation increases, performance levels rise and outcomes for women improve. Investment in staff is an investment in care for women and their families. The RCM has a strong working relationship with the IPPR and we will look forward to the final report – to be published at the end of 2023 – which will flesh out recommendations for how industrial strategy, health and care services, community environments and public services can all better contribute to longer, healthier working lives.