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‘Overworked, understaffed and underfunded’ maternity units often have to shut their doors

Maternity units are repeatedly suffering temporarily closures as a result of “overworked, understaffed and underfunded” services, made worse by an acute lack of midwives and increases in demand.

A survey of senior midwives by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) found that over two-fifths of units had to shut their doors temporarily during the last year, because they “couldn’t cope with the demand”. Although units cannot be named, some saw upwards of 30 closures in just one year due to an inability to cope with demands and bed shortages.

And the overwhelming majority of midwives surveyed (almost 92%) said their unit was dealing with more complex cases than before, while more than a quarter of heads of midwifery services (HoMS) said they “simply did not have enough midwives”.

The royal college reiterated that the shortage of midwives in England “remains critical” with a current shortfall of 2,600 full-time staff.

Other issues highlighted in the survey included disagreements on how maternity services are valued by boards, increasing pressures in the role and a growing amount of on-call community staff being called in to cover the labour and delivery suites.

RCM’s chief executive, Cathy Warwick, said: “Our maternity services are overworked, understaffed and underfunded and struggling to meet the demands being placed on them. This is deeply worrying for the quality of care women are receiving, and the safety of services.

“Midwives and MSWs are too often keeping services afloat by working long hours, doing unpaid overtime and missing breaks. This is not a situation that leads to safe and high quality care for women and babies.

“All of this shows a system that is creaking at the seams and only able to deliver high quality care through the efforts and dedication of its staff. When services are operating at or beyond their capacity, safety is compromised and mistakes can, and almost certainly will be made, through no fault of the dedicated staff delivering the service.”

Warwick blamed the government for this crisis, saying they are “letting down women, babies and their families, as well as staff they purport to value”.

“This is simply not acceptable,” she continued.

The survey forms part of the RCM’s submission to the NHS Pay Review Body 2015.

Dr Clare McKenzie, vice president for education at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the results were “extremely worrying” and warned that stretched maternity services affect the quality and safety of care, as well as “restricts the choices available to women”.

“On the whole, the UK is a safe place for women to give birth, but pressure on maternity services is growing, placing stress on doctors, midwives, managers and patients,” she said.

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that the government is “determined to make sure every mother and baby gets the highest quality of care no matter where they live”.

She continued: “We’ve invested in 1,900 more midwives and 3,600 more health visitors since 2010 and NHS England has commissioned a major independent review of maternity services for women and babies across the country.”

Yet Heidi Alexander MP, shadow health secretary, said maternity units are “all too often understaffed and unable to respond to rising demand”, resulting in some having to shut their doors.

“David Cameron promised to recruit 3,000 more midwives but has failed to do so. If mums are to feel comfortable with midwives they know and trust, this staffing issue must be addressed,” she said.

(Top image c. David Jones/PA Wire)


Peggy Woodward   03/03/2017 at 09:27

And the government's response is to cut more funding in a the guise of 'efficiency' and 'streamlining'. A few years ago I regularly worked about 50 hrs a week but got paid for 37 & 1/2. If I said I was doing unpaid overtime I was told there was no money and that I should 'manage my hours better'. So, for the sake of my patients I put in the extra hours. And because I passionately believed in trying to give the best NHS care possible. I didn't have time to read up about the background picture until the last few years and learn to my horror that the government agenda is to destroy the NHS.

Dr J   05/04/2017 at 15:56

I trained as a midwife and gp many years ago and, I have noticed when making a pay claim for midwifes, they are for gotten about and have been treated like a silent doctor, whilst not just delivering babies, is their job they have to some times investigate cases of child sex abuse, the dangers to expectant mothers, and the unborn child. mental health, along with domestic violence. they are investigators as well. I think some times the midwifes case is not put across very well, and they get put away in the cuboard, and only put on the occasional display. isn't it about time they were more recongized.

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