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NHS on verge of midwife ‘exodus’, predicts survey

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Excessive workloads and poor staffing levels are leading an ever increasing number of midwives to leave the health service, according to a new report from a union.

The report – Why Midwives Leave – reveals the results of a survey of over 2,000 midwives who have left the profession in the last two years or say they are planning to go during the next two. It follows up similar research carried out nearly 15 years ago by Sheffield University and the Royal College of Midwives.

“That so many midwives have left or intend to leave is saddening, dispiriting and worrying”

Cathy Warwick

The new survey “paints a picture” of midwives working ever harder to provide safe and high quality care, and leaving because they are unable to do this, warned the RCM.

Former midwives were asked why they decided to leave, with 52% saying they were not happy with staffing levels and 48% that they were unhappy with the quality of care they were able to give.

Among midwives intending to leave, 62% said they are not happy about staffing levels where they worked and 52% were not satisfied with the quality of care they are able to give.

In addition, 46% cited excessive workload as one of the key reasons they were planning to leave.

“We are asking for employers and government to take action”

Cathy Warwick

However, midwives highlighted that improvements in working conditions would encourage them to stay in the profession or even return.

According to the survey results, 88% would be either “very” or “quite likely” to return if staffing levels improved, and 83% would be “very likely” or “quite likely” to return if the workload eased.

The survey also asked questions on morale and how the profession was valued by employers and the government.

Just 9% of respondents said they felt midwifery was valued by the government, while only 35% said they felt the profession was valued by their employer.

Based on the findings, the RCM made five recommendations it believed could help stem the flood of potential leavers.

Three of the recommendations are focused at employers and the improvement of working conditions, while two are targeted at the government and remuneration.

  • NHS organisations should review their maternity staffing levels using a recognised workforce planning tool to ensure staffing reflects the workload
  • NHS organisations should review their midwifery turnover and vacancies and address recruitment and retention issues
  • NHS organisations should sign up to the RCM’s Caring for You Charter to take action on flexible working, breaks and workplace culture
  • Government should end public sector pay restraint allowing the NHS Pay Review Body to make unfettered pay recommendations for NHS midwives and break the 1% pay cap
  • Government should re-think its plans to abolish the bursary for midwifery students and not introduce tuition fees

Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, described it as “saddening, dispiriting and worrying” that so many midwives had left or intended to leave.

Professor Cathy Warwick

Professor Cathy Warwick

Cathy Warwick

“Maternity services are performing as well as they are on the backs of the selfless dedication of midwives and other maternity staff, and their capacity to go that extra mile for mothers and babies, day after day,” she said. “However, this shows that many cannot fight that battle any longer.

“Enormous demands are being made on midwives and the services they work for, yet investment in these services remains inadequate to provide the quality of care that women deserve,” she said.

She added: “We are asking for employers and government to take action to keep midwives in midwifery.”

The report’s publication coincides with the RCM’s annual conference in Harrogate this week.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • wow what an interesting read! The midwives are way ahead of nursing in doing this. Can we have one for nurses please??? It would be interesting to find out the results.

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  • I agree with above comment, we could do with a survey like this for the nurses.

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  • I agree as well- with nursing" it is well so what if there is a mass exodus we can get cheaper labour in, in fact lets get volunteers in"

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