Local maternity services in crisis: grassroots movement mobilises thousands in nation-wide vigils to demand urgent government action
By Andrea Glover
Midwives in the UK are leaving their profession in alarming numbers. Maternity units are closing their doors and the safety of birth in the UK is in crisis as infant and maternal morbidity are on the rise.
Government promises are not being kept. Continuity of Carer/Best Start teams cannot be effectively implemented due to staffing issues and lack of funding.
March with Midwives' steering group said: "It is clear that maternity services in the UK are in crisis, giving birth in the UK; a high-income country, is becoming critically unsafe. This is unacceptable. Where we have women, birthing people and babies at risk; their families, communities and countries become sick. This is a genuine national emergency which impacts every level of society."
"We call on the UK government to implement urgent crisis management and resources. Government promises are not being kept and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Maternity must take responsibility for their silence and call for immediate action."
The March with Midwives movement is asking the government to:
- LISTEN to all staff and service users and their advocates
- FUND emergency retention of staff
- ENABLE all qualified midwives who are willing to work and support students to enter training and finish their courses
- REDUCE the demands on staff
Alice Hill, one of the organisers of the March with Midwives in Exeter, speaks out about her own experiences:
"Our system is setting up our midwives to fail."
"Midwives are a VITAL part of birth. They work with and stand by mothers through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period."
"Did you know that midwives often go without food and breaks because there are not enough staff available to cover them?"
"Did you know that midwives often forgo seeing their own families because they have to stay behind for hours after their shift has finished due to the amount of ever growing paper work?"
"Did you know that more and more midwives are leaving service because the strain is affecting their mental health? The Royal College of Midwives estimates the UK is short 3,500 midwives and this problem is growing rapidly - the current reductions in numbers are the fastest ever recorded."
Maternity services have become critically unsafe
As of July this year, 41% of all maternity services are rated "inadequate" or "requires improvement" for safety. Black women have a 4 x higher risk and Asian women a 2 x higher risk of dying in pregnancy than white women and are more likely to die during the childbearing year. Women living in the most deprived areas are almost three times more likely to die than those who live in the most affluent areas.
A recent RCM survey of midwives found 60% of staff are thinking of leaving the profession. For every 30 newly qualified midwives, 29 are leaving, meaning the NHS gains only one extra midwife. Bullying and toxic hierarchical management systems are stifling innovation, silencing whistleblowing and causing psychological harm. The levels of mental health issues among midwives are distressingly high, with a third reporting PTSD, extreme stress, anxiety, and depression. 96% of student midwives have reported mental health problems since the beginning of the pandemic.
Midwifery skills are being lost and the profession is being eroded.
It is time to take a stand and show our midwives we stand with them
Alice goes further: "I set up The Honest Birth Company because I am passionate about birth. I believe that every birth experience should be a positive one whether that be natural or medical. I support women alongside their midwives to help them make choices to feel empowered to the birth the way they want to. I am shocked to learn about the suffering our midwives up and down the country face on a daily basis."
"We all want the mothers and birth workers to have a positive experience. When the system is intentionally setting us up to fail something need to change. Getting the government to respond to us through this campaign is crucial for all future midwives, birth workers and parents"
"Many people are not aware of the critical conditions midwives are working under up and down the country."
We marched in Exeter to draw attention to these problems, but this affects all of us. Mothers from all across Devon rely on our midwives and are being let down by this government.
A national movement
The March with Midwives movement is a nationwide awareness campaign highlighting the terrible working conditions, staff and resources shortages and emotional turmoil our maternity teams are facing on a daily bases in hospitals up and down the country.
Alice, worked with Emma Barker, a new mum who has recently experienced first-hand being the hands of the midwives in these trying times, and other supporting parties to organise the March for Wives in Exeter.