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Midwives warn of making mistakes due to burnout

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Half of midwives fear they could make a potentially harmful mistake because they are “exhausted” at work, reveals a new survey.

The survey, carried out by the Royal College of Midwives in March this year, “paints a bleak picture of the health, safety and wellbeing” of staff, according to the union.

“My concentration is affected, which as a midwife is highly dangerous”

Survey respondent

It was completed by more than 1,360 members, including midwives, maternity support workers and student midwives.

The majority – 84% – reported their workload had increased in the past year, while nearly half – 48% – said they felt stress every day or most days.

More than half – 56% – said they felt “overwhelmed” by the amount of work they had to do, while half strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I am worried about making a mistake at work because I am exhausted”.

More than half – 52% – said they had witnessed a mistake, near miss or incident that could have harmed a mother or baby in the past month.

“This campaign is not just about caring for staff; it is also about enabling them to deliver the best possible care”

Suzanne Tyler

Many reported neglecting tasks because they had so much to do with just 22% saying they had enough time to build a rapport with the women and families they work with.

“Stress and anxiety have caused me to make errors at work or forget things,” said one midwife, who responded to the survey and said she struggled to sleep because of worrying about work. ”My concentration is affected, which as a midwife is highly dangerous,” she warned.

Meanwhile, a midwifery team manager revealed she was thinking of leaving the profession because of the strain she was under.

“I have always prided myself on the care that I give. However, nowadays I’m so busy at work I can never remember what I have done,” she said. “I feel helpless to support my midwives on shift as I often have my own women to care for.

“Balancing my management duties, caring duties and staff wellbeing duties is impossible,” she said. “I am seriously considering another career path.”

The survey found many staff were going without breaks, food and drink while working long hours. Only a fifth – 21% – said they took all the breaks they are entitled to most or all of the time.

Sixty-two per cent said they delayed going to the toilet because they were so busy and the same proportion reported being dehydrated because they did not have time to drink.

“I feel helpless to support my midwives on shift”

Team leader

The publication of the survey results is being used to help support the launch of the RCM’s Caring for You campaign, which aims to improve the welfare of midwives and support staff in the workplace.

As part of the campaign, the RCM is asking trusts to sign up to a charter that commits them to ensuring midwives can access different shift patterns and flexible working, and have time to take proper breaks.

“When staff are overworked, under intense pressure and struggling to provide the best care, their physical and mental health suffers,” said Suzanne Tyler, the RCM’s director for services to members.

“This has a negative impact on their ability to work to the highest levels and standards of care and safety decline,” she said.

“This campaign is not just about caring for staff; it is also about enabling them to deliver the best possible care to women, babies and their families,” she added.

The college highlighted that the survey found midwives in organisations where positive action was taken to boost staff health and wellbeing were more likely to feel confident raising concerns about unsafe care or other issues.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Midwives are accused of doing the most ridiculous things by management and women. We are not provided with the means to defend ourselves and our goodwill is taken for granted.

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  • I'm currently off work with anxiety and workplace stress, I asked my Gp to be clear that was the issue - I've started anti anxiety meds and feel terrible - I've been asked by manager to share my thoughts less than a week away - I'm anxious I ache all over clammy and feel shaky and completely exhausted - it's anxiety about work and I'm thinking about work 3/4 of my day and why I'm off and feel it's too early to discuss with manager. I'm considering already selling my house renting and paying off finance in order to look for another Job less stressful - I adore midwifery and it's a very sad thought for me to leave but I can't see me going back at this time 😢

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