Maternity services have been running on goodwill – but midwives are burning out

57 per cent of midwives say they neglect tasks because they have too much else to do

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The Royal College of Midwives will table a motion at TUC Congress today, calling on the General Council to sign up to the ‘Caring for You’ charter.

In June 2016, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) launched our new campaign ‘Caring for You’ with the aim of improving RCM members’ health, safety and wellbeing at work so they are able to provide high quality maternity care for women and their families.

The birth rate has been rising steadily for years and added to this maternity units are handling more complex cases. This means that midwives and maternity support workers are working harder and harder and increasingly facing difficult issues.

Maternity services in the UK have been running on goodwill for years now. The service is reliant on midwives and maternity support workers working through their breaks and well beyond their hours to provide safe care for women.

The increased pressure and demands are having a significant effect on the health, safety and wellbeing of midwives and maternity support workers. RCM members are reporting that they are feeling stressed, burned out and unable to give high quality care to women and their families.

While there is a high level of camaraderie in maternity units there are also many reports of bullying and undermining behaviours. We believe that nobody should be harmed when caring for others.

We conducted a survey of RCM members and we found high levels of burn out and stress. Our survey found that:

  • Only 21 per cent of RCM members said they take their entitled breaks most or all of the time
  • 17 per cent of members work five hours or more every week unpaid
  • 48 per cent of members said they felt stress every day or most days. The most common reasons for stress were workload; staff shortages and not enough time to do their job.
  • 57 per cent of members agreed with the statement ‘I have to neglect some tasks because there is so much to do’
  • 56 per cent of members agreed with the statement ‘I feel overwhelmed by how much work I have to do’
  • 50 per cent of members agreed with the statement ‘I am worried about making a mistake at work because I am exhausted’
  • 18 per cent of members agreed with the statement ‘I often cry at work because of the pressure I am under’

However, our survey also found that when organisations work with health and safety representatives take positive action on health, safety and wellbeing it makes a difference. It leads to lower stress levels and better health and wellbeing for staff and improved care for women and their families.

For example, we found that 53 per cent of members who work in organisations that do not take positive action on health, safety and wellbeing report bullying, harassment and abuse from managers compared to 12 per cent of members who work in organisations that do take positive action on health, safety and wellbeing

This shows that the RCM’s research is testimony to the value of health and safety representatives in the workplace and the evidence that treating staff fairly is to everyone’s benefit. Investment in NHS staff is an investment in NHS care.

Our campaign asks NHS organisations to sign up to our Caring for You Charter. The Charter asks organisations to show commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff by taking action on key issues such as flexible working, breaks and bullying. The Charter asks for managers to work in partnership with the RCM health and safety representative.

In the first three months of the campaign we’ve had over forty NHS organisations across the UK sign up to our Charter. That is nearly 25 per cent of all organisations show their commitment.

Our workplace representatives are working hard to negotiate locally with their managers to get more organisations to sign up to our Charter. We are also encouraging more members to become health and safety representatives as our research shows that this important role really makes a difference.

We are hopeful that this campaign can make a difference but it is clear that maternity services, and the rest of the NHS, must be properly funded and invested in.

The best asset the NHS has is its workforce, so to give the best care we need to invest in the workforce.

Amy Leversidge is Employment Relations Advisor at The Royal College of Midwives

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