Low morale and staff shortages means 'grave' situation for midwives

The morale of British midwives is at an all time low and 10,000 extra staff are needed, according to a leading healthcare expert.

Linda Ball, a midwife and senior lecturer in health and social care research at Sheffield Hallam University, says that the midwifery profession is crippled by unhappy staff and overstretched wards.

The revelations come after National Midwifery Week (1-7 May, 2006) and compound the Government's NHS misery, after it announced more job cuts across the health service.

"The situation in the midwifery profession is grave. There have been very few jobs for newly qualified midwives across the UK, yet there is a 10,000 deficit in the number of qualified midwives, according to Government figures", she said.

Linda Ball, who co-authored a Department of Health Report, 'Why Do Midwives Leave?', claims the Government's move to create a more decentralised, patient-centred NHS through the introduction of Foundation Trusts, has led to the threat of redundancies and cost-cutting achieved by down-grading experienced staff.

"What has actually happened is that NHS Foundation Trusts across South Yorkshire are fighting to clear massive deficits. So, they are pulling in the purse-strings, freezing job vacancies, not replacing those who leave and not using expensive agency staff."

"The 2004 Agenda for Change, which was introduced by the Department of Health and promised re-grading and increased pay, also has a lot to answer for. I suspect that in many areas, it has been used as a tool to justify the down-grading of experienced midwives to make cost savings." The expert does believe there are positives for midwifery profession.

"The home birth rate is finally starting to rise across the UK which has to be a good thing. As advocates for women and their families, midwives continue to have a more crucial role than ever before to provide a service that meets the needs of women from all walks of life."

Sheffield Hallam University has seen an application boom for its new degree and diploma courses in midwifery studies, which begin in September, with more than six hundred applicants for 35 places.

"The new courses at Sheffield Hallam University are really exciting. They have been developed in partnership with all local hospitals and care trusts and have closely involved our staff, local women and newly qualified students to ensure they meet everyone's needs. Student midwives will learn their skills in our state-of-the-art Health and Wellbeing Building, with its home and hospital settings, and will spend fifty per cent of their time experiencing a wide range of midwifery practice first hand, to ensure they can 'hit the ground running'."

From January 2007, the University will also run an 18-month fast-track course for nurses registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council who wish to become midwives. The new courses come after the University secured a prestigious three-year contract from the South Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority worth £45 million. It means that from September 2006, the University will deliver vital training for nurses and midwives across South Yorkshire.

Linda Ball first explored the need for a shake-up in the midwifery profession in a 2002 report 'Why Do Midwives Leave' (Ball, Curtis and Kirkham), followed by a second report 'Talking to Managers' (Ball, Curtis & Kirkham, 2003). Both were funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Royal College of Midwives, in response to concerns about persistent shortages of midwives in many parts of the UK. By focusing on reasons for midwives wanting to leave, the initial study found that nearly 30 per cent were dissatisfied with midwifery practice within the NHS, citing unsupportive management and pressure of work due to staff shortages as key concerns.

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