The Royal College of Midwives, which is holding its annual conference this week, have made a number of stark warnings to the government about unsafe care due to dwindling resources.
A poll of senior midwives has revealed that one in three maternity units has had to temporarily shut during the last year, turning away women in labour. This is against a background of increasingly complex births due to larger numbers of older mothers or those with a high BMI.
In addition to the increasing demand on so-called “front-line” services, other vital services such as parent classes and breastfeeding support have been reduced. These antenatal services exist to support new parents and help to ensure that babies have a healthy start to life.
A further poll reveals the truth about inadequate staffing levels with some midwives having to care for 15 mothers and babies at a time. Others feared that they would make “tragic” mistakes due to simple overwork, having to work 12 hour shifts with no break.
Sadly, these pressures on midwives due to understaffing is leading to a vicious cycle of driving people away from the profession, thus leading to ever fewer staff who are not replaced.
We know that the effects of poor midwifery care can be devastating and life-changing, if not life-threatening, to both mothers and babies. During a time when the government is seeking to reduce the cost of litigation against the NHS, the message from their own front-line staff appears to be to avoid mistakes in the first place by increasing their numbers and resources.