Unions express concern at staff leaving the NHS due to too much pressure, poor workplace culture and increased workloads
RCM chief executive Gill Walton said: “We are already 2,000 midwives short in England, yet the number in the NHS continues to fall while demands on maternity services grow. Other UK countries are also facing pressures. This is not sustainable and is without doubt having an impact on the safety and quality of care for women, babies, and their families.
“It is also putting massive and unreasonable pressures on NHS midwives and maternity support workers – already battered by the pandemic – and many are starting to vote with their feet and leave the NHS. They are deeply concerned they cannot do their job well and safely and the excessive demands on them is also hitting their mental and physical health. In many places staff goodwill is keeping services safe and afloat. I have real fears that this situation is chipping away at the morale and resilience of an already fragile workforce. We must support, protect, and enable them to do what they came into the profession to do; deliver the best possible care to women and babies.”
RCM analysis of the latest official NHS workforce statistics show that in the 12 months to February this year England’s NHS midwifery workforce shrank by 458 midwives, continuing a downward trend. Other UK countries are also facing staffing challenges. RCM surveys of its Scottish members this year and across the UK last year show significant numbers of midwives are seriously thinking of leaving the NHS. A situation mirrored in the NHS England staff survey results. In its Blueprint for better maternity care in Northern Ireland published in March, the RCM said there is a serious need for more midwives and other trained maternity staff. The recent Ockenden Report also laid out the need for significant investment in the maternity workforce.
Gill Walton added: “We are in a vicious cycle of pressures forcing people to leave the NHS. This is leading to more pressure on those remaining, and we simply cannot continue like this. We need a significant injection of investment into NHS maternity services across the UK to increase midwife numbers and ensure they have the resources needed. We also need real efforts to retain the staff we have and halt this haemorrhage out of the NHS. We have major pressures bearing down on our maternity services that all governments must acknowledge.
“We are crying out for governments across the UK to address these issues urgently and give us the maternity services women can feel safe and secure about using, and that staff want to continue working in. Right now, and too often, we have neither.”
UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “With more than 500 nurses and midwives leaving every week, there’s no room for government complacency. The pandemic has left a deep scars on staff, many of whom are no longer willing to put up with the constant pressure or the lack of value put on their incredible work.
“Ministers must ensure the reality of NHS work doesn’t push new recruits into less pressured and better paid work outside the health service. The huge numbers of overseas staff joining must also be welcomed and supported properly.
“Without an urgent retention package, including an above-inflation pay rise, the NHS will be unable to stem the tide of leavers and waiting lists will continue to grow.”
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