Midwife shortage makes women feel like 'cattle' during childbirth

Laura Bundock, Sky News Reporter

Half of all women in labour experience a "red flag" event where basic care is delayed or undelivered, according to new research.

The report by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) claims this highlights the worrying shortage of midwives.

Examples of red flag events include waiting times of more than 30 minutes for pain relief during childbirth, medication doses being missed, and delays of more than an hour for stitches.

Elizabeth Duff, a senior policy adviser at the NCT, believes the study exposes a crisis in maternity care.

"No women should have to suffer a red flag event when bringing a baby into the world. Severe staffing shortages must be acted on so that every family receives an acceptable level of care," she said.

Sky News spoke to mothers at a play centre in southwest London.

Most felt their labour hadn't gone to plan, and said staff often appeared under pressure.

One mother-of-two claimed: "I asked for drugs and an epidural. I had to send my husband out to look for staff and they promised it, but it just never came."

Hayley Exel, a mother-of-four, said: "Everyone seemed stretched. Everyone didn't seem to have enough time to do those one-on-one conversations with you, to be reassuring and to listen to you."

Their experiences are reflected in the new report, which found 17% of women did not receive one-to-one care from midwives during established labour.

For 31% of women, requests for pain relief took longer than 30 minutes, and 15% said they had delays after giving birth for washing or suturing.

Another problem highlighted was how women felt they were being treated, with some saying they felt like "cattle" or just a "product on a conveyor belt".

Current figures suggest an extra 3,500 midwives are needed in England alone.

Louise Silverton, from the Royal College of Midwives, said: "This ongoing shortage of midwives and underfunding of services is not delivering the service that women and their families need, and it is storing up health problems for the future that could be prevented."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the Government is "absolutely" committed to improving maternity care.

They said: "We want the NHS to be one of the safest places in the world to have a baby.

"There are over 1,500 more midwives on our maternity units since 2010, and more than 6,300 currently in training, with our changes to student funding creating thousands more training places by the end of this parliament."