Maternity services are at “breaking point” and the “crisis” in maternity care should be addressed as a “national emergency”, midwives have said.
The warning came as supporters of a March with Midwives campaign gathered in towns and cities across much of the UK on Sunday to raise their concerns about staffing levels, working conditions and the state of the service.
Midwives and families whose babies were delivered were among those who attended a vigil in London’s Parliament Square to call on the Government to act now to tackle staffing shortages and safety in maternity units.
London-based midwife Sarah Muggleton, 27, spoke of the tiring daily grind she has faced during her six-year career.
She told the crowd in central London: “I give every drop of my energy and emotion to hormonal and sometimes traumatised women so when I get home I have nothing more I can give to myself or my loved ones.
“I often have to skip lunch breaks as I do 12-and-a-half-hour shifts to try and achieve the basic levels of care required of me.
“I will be lucky to go to the toilet when I want.
“Don’t even get started on the pay.”
She said the stresses of her job can include caring for a bereaved family who have just had a stillborn baby and then having to run down to another labour ward room where a woman is delivering a live baby because there is not enough staff for the required one-to-one care.
Ms Muggleton added: “I know I am not treated right and it is bad for my mental health.
“I know I should leave but I care so much for the women.”
She said: “Maternity services are at crisis point now.
“We have to have improvements now.
“We are burnt out and crying for help now.”
March with Midwives is calling on politicians to listen to all staff and the people who use maternity services, to fund the emergency retention of staff, to support student training and reduce demands on staff.
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy described it as “a major disgrace” the role of a midwife does not appear to be valued enough.
She said: “More people are not going to put themselves forward to be midwives if they are not paid properly, if they are not treated properly, if they are over-stressed and over-worked.”
Then they are “going in to work questioning the safety and type of service they are delivering to women and in birthing people,” she added.
Earlier this month, data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) showed that the number of nurses and midwives leaving the professions has risen.
Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, warned more departures could follow without further efforts to tackle the pressures on both occupations brought on by the pandemic.
The NMC said the latest data showed that the overall number of people quitting the register has increased for the most recent period for the first time in four years.
The organisation’s mid-year registration data report showed that a total of 13,945 people left between April and September, compared with 11,020 in the same period last year.
The last time the total number of leavers was higher for the same six-month period was in 2017, the NMC said.
The March with Midwives steering group states that giving birth in the UK is “becoming critically unsafe” and “this is a genuine national emergency which impacts every level of society.”
Jon Skewes, of the Royal College of Midwives, referenced their own survey last month which showed that 57% of midwives are looking to leave and the biggest group among them are those who have only been working for five years or less.
He said: “For years, maternity services have been operating with too few staff and inadequate resources.
“NHS Trusts and Boards have relied on the goodwill of staff, and their genuine love of what they do, to maintain services but staff are reaching the end of their tether.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “We are committed to patient safety, eradicating avoidable harms and making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth.
“Midwives do an incredibly important job and we know how challenging it has been for those working during the pandemic.
“There are more midwives working in the NHS now than at any other time in its history and we are aiming to hire 1,200 more with a £95 million recruitment drive.
“The mental health and wellbeing of staff remains a key priority and the NHS continues to offer a broad range of support including through dedicated helplines and mental health and wellbeing hubs.”