Scottish Government must act now to put more in maternity care

By Jackie Baillie MSP for Dumbarton, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care and Drugs Policy, and Scottish Labour Deputy Leader on 27 April 2023 Maternity Services RCM UK Midwives Midwifery Workforce Scottish Government Scottish Maternity Services

Jackie Ballie, Member of the Scottish Parliament, writes for the RCM on the importance of good midwifery care and need for investment in Scottish maternity services ahead of RCM reception at Scottish Parliament.

Good midwifery care is a vital part of our NHS. Most of us will have come into contact with a midwife, maternity support worker (MSW) or a maternity care assistant (MCA) at least once in our lives, and yet quite often, these staff members are the forgotten, unsung heroes of our health and social care system.

Often, the work and specialist skills of a midwife are not fully appreciated; they play a vital role in the long-term health of women, supporting them throughout pregnancy and beyond. In turn, this has positive impacts on both mum, baby and the whole family. Maternity care and midwifery has the potential to assist in reducing levels of health inequalities among women and is key in the wider women’s health plan.

But for too long, midwifery staff have reported feeling undervalued.

Difficult working conditions and low levels of pay have left the profession burnt out and feeling unappreciated, with almost 6,000 vacancies in nursing and midwifery posts remaining stubbornly high. 

We need the Scottish Government to value and develop the workforce, and to do so urgently. We know that the number of midwives heading for the exit door is rising due to fears around the ability to provide safe care and low staffing levels.

That is why raising the profile of the midwifery profession is so important.

The reality is that the resources maternity services need and what is available are very different and it is the sheer will, professionalism and determination of midwives that keeps services ticking over – but this is unsustainable and without urgent action, the system will crumble.

Scotland’s heroic midwifery workforce go above and beyond for the women, babies, and families they care for, day in, day out, but they need to be backed by a Government that is willing to act.

We cannot address the crisis in NHS staffing without a decent workforce plan that incentivises more people to join the profession, and that retains staff too.

The Scottish Government must act now to provide more funding for maternity services and offer better support for midwives at the earliest stages of their career so that they feel valued and respected. The Government should also ensure that midwives have time to undertake essential education and development training and must create an accurate tool to determine midwifery staffing levels. And we must not forget also that the crisis in maternity extends to midwifery educators and in midwifery research; they too underpin safe care.

The time for action is long overdue. The First Minister and the new Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care must work with the Royal College of Midwives and others to improve working conditions, to tackle women’s health inequalities and to properly value staff in maternity services before the crisis develops any further.