'We do 13 hour shifts without a break': Midwives protest over mass burnout
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Hundreds of exasperated midwives, mothers, doulas and allies held a vigil in Norwich over what they claim is a maternity crisis of "critical" proportions.
March with Midwives vigils have been held across the country in solidarity with burnt-out NHS staff who claim they work up to 13 hour shifts without so much as a toilet or drinks break.
A recent survey revealed 60pc of midwives want to pack in their jobs over the stress they are facing, while for every 30 midwives that qualify, 29 leave the profession altogether.
On Sunday at The Forum, more than 200 people gathered in the freezing cold to demand the government take immediate action for the sake of would-be mothers everywhere.
Not all of the vigil participants were midwives who, for the most part, feel scared to speak out at risk of being sacked.
Most were mothers who'd seen the immense pressure midwives are under, or doulas — trained companions who support people through significant health-related experiences (like childbirth or miscarriage), but are not healthcare professionals.
Doula Maddie McMahon, 52, has been working alongside midwives for nearly 20 years.
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"It's becoming critically unsafe on maternity wards", she said.
"There just aren't enough midwives in the service, and it's putting them and the mothers they're helping at risk."
Fellow doula Siobhan Ridley, 39, said many of her midwife friends had been left needing therapy because they weren't given enough time to recover following a traumatising birth.
She said: "The attitude is terrifying. It's just: okay, so you're traumatised? Never mind, crack on with your 14 hour shift."
One midwife who attended the protest, but did not want to be named, said an acute staffing shortage had been apparent since 2016, when many of the older members of the profession began to retire in their droves.
But Covid had massively exacerbated problems.
"I actually ended up talking to a whistleblowing service in April after I had a breakdown on shift", she said. "Now I work in an office.
"Inexperienced and student midwives are expected to look after eight women and their babies on their own.
"Staff shortages mean women are coming into hospital and waiting five days to be induced, or going hours without pain relief.
"You always put the mothers before yourself, but even then it sits on your conscience."
How has the Department for Health and Social Care responded?
A spokesman 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 £95m 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."