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The UK’s midwifery crisis

For years, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned the UK about the maternity care system's crisis.

For years, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned the UK about the maternity care system’s crisis. According to their most recent survey*, maternity services are being sustained mainly by the goodwill of overworked staff. The shortage of workforce, burnout, and plummeting morale are driving experienced midwives out of the profession, aggravating the problem even further.

Staffing challenges

The survey reveals that the NHS is struggling to maintain safe staffing levels. Many units are relying heavily on bank and agency staff, often at significant financial cost. Nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents found it challenging to recruit for positions, and over a third described it as very difficult.

One alarming consequence is that midwives are often working long hours without compensation to ensure safe services. Nearly 94% of senior midwives acknowledged that they rely on substantial levels of generosity from their colleagues to deliver safe care.

“The midwife exodus”

The deteriorating conditions in maternity services have greatly impacted the well-being of midwives and maternity support workers. The RCM’s survey shows that experienced staff are leaving the profession due to falling pay and burnout. The average midwife has seen their earnings drop by approximately £56,000 since 2008, mainly due to pay stagnation and inflation.

The “midwife exodus” is now a pressing concern as over half of midwives say they are considering leaving their jobs within the next year. This figure is particularly troubling as it disproportionately affects midwives with five years or less experience in the NHS. According to the RCM, student midwives grapple with financial worries, mental health issues, and uncertain job prospects. In England, they accrue an average of £41,000 in debt, even with training bursaries. In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, 91% of student midwives find bursaries insufficient to cover living costs. The loss of these young professionals affects workforce planning and compromises the ability to provide safe maternity care.

Urgent action needed

The RCM has called on the government to address the maternity crisis immediately. It advocates for improving pay, increasing investment, and working to reverse the shortage. The College also highlights that if the midwifery workforce had grown at the same rate as the NHS workforce over the past decade, there would be 5,000 more midwives today, eliminating the current shortage.

The UK’s maternity crisis requires immediate action. The shortage of midwives and overworked staff threaten the safety and quality of maternity care. The government, healthcare organisations, and stakeholders must collaborate and invest in solutions that will support midwives, improve retention, and ensure safe maternity services for women across the country.

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