Yesterday at 2pm, vigils were held across the UK to draw attention to a growing crisis within British midwifery. ELLE spoke to a number of the organisers and attendees, to find out more...
‘March with Midwives’ - a grassroots movement set up by maternity care workers and their families - invited the public to take to the streets up and down the South, to demand better funding for maternal care and an improvement in working conditions.
The movement was launched in October, after a survey conducted by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) discovered that 57% of midwives could be set to leave the NHS by next year.
After the publication of the survey, a wave of public outrage has followed, revealing issues around funding, unsafe working conditions and a general lack of care and concern for midwifery staff.
Attending the 'March with Midwives' vigil in Guildford, Surrey, ELLE spoke to a number of those attending.
Angela Richardson, Conservative MP for Guildford, who gave birth to her three children at the Royal County Hospital in Guildford said: ‘Giving birth is still one of the most perilous things a woman can do and it’s really important that our midwives are well resourced, that they have the support that they need and the funding that they need. But it’s also important that we get more midwives being trained so that everyone can have confidence when they are giving birth.’
And when it comes to midwifery training, it seems financial limitations are a huge issue.
‘I actually began my training as a student midwife, but due to lack of funding and money it was unaffordable to continue,’ said Megan Rossiter, who is still working in the maternity field but within antenatal education.
Rossiter continued: ‘We’re hearing stories every single day of women that are being let down and choices are being taken away from them due to lack of staff. I have friends and colleagues that are working through the system and they are tired, they are exhausted, they are overworked and enough is enough.
'We need better funding, better support and a system that works for midwives and families, and [gives them better] access to care.’
Catherine, a mum-of-three and post-natal doula from Dorking, Surrey said: ‘It’s really frightening that of 30 midwives trained, 29 will never make into the profession. [The state of midwifery is] not sustainable, and I think it’s vital that the government start listening to parents and midwives. It really feels like this movement is building momentum.’
The alarming statistic that Catherine pointed out is backed by the National Health Executive (NHE), who reported that there is still a huge shortfall in required staff for maternal care units, despite the government's £95million pledge to recruit and train upwards of 1,200 new midwives.
Those who turned up to various campaign meeting points, many with children in tow, to support ‘March with Midwives’ yesterday stressed that the movement is about the safety and wellbeing of all involved.
Luisa Ricci Wise, a student midwife and mother-of-four said: ‘[The March with Midwives movement] isn't just about birthing experiences, it's about preventing things like PTSD.’
Speaking of the birth of her son, who stood beside her during our interview, Ricci said: ‘He needed [extra] assistance and if it wasn’t for the midwives we might not have this guy right here.’
Carly Lewis, who helped to organise the March with Midwives vigil in Guildford said: ‘We want to reduce the pressure that we put on the midwives we have now. It’s really important that we change how we’re supporting the trainees and that we can support the people that are still in the jobs now that want to continue working.’
Shirley Stump, a doula who, along with Lewis, organised the march in Guilford, said: ‘I have seen the struggles and pressure that midwives have, and I’ve always been in awe of how they manage to provide the care that they do under the conditions that they work, often with no lunch breaks, extended hours and being called back to work [after hours].
'On average, they work three to five extra hours of unpaid work a week, but I reckon it’s more than that for many of them.
'We have enough money to make births safes. Births should be safe and should be supported and midwives need to be looked after, appreciated and paid properly for their time, and respected. I feel like there’s not enough respect there at the moment and the attention is not on them. We need to listen to them because we need to act now.
'Peace on earth begins with birth and we really need to put the money into where it counts,' Stump finished.
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,' as reported by ITV.
We remain hopeful that positive change is coming.
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