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Rising stress, bullying and errors among midwives due to workplace pressures

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Increasing stress from high workloads, alongside rising numbers of bullying incidents and errors that could have hurt staff or patients, have been uncovered in a survey of UK midwives and maternity support workers.

The vast majority of midwifery staff – 73.4% – are not taking their breaks, according to the survey by the Royal College of Midwives, which also found more than half responding felt dehydrated at work most or all of the time because they don’t have enough time to drink.

“The lack of staff and resources will, and does affect the care our maternity professionals can deliver”

Gill Walton

The RCM’s survey of staff in 2017, which had 673 responses, found work-related stress had increased since the year before.

In 2016, 64% of the 1,361 college members who responded said they had felt unwell due to work-related stress in the previous 12 months – but in 2017 this rose to 65.9%.

The three most common reasons for feeling stressed were workload (78.7%), staff shortages (75.2%) and not enough time to do the job (70%), according to the 2017 survey. These were the same top reasons given in the previous year.

Meanwhile, cases of harassment, bullying or abuse between colleagues had gone up from 33% in 2016, to 35.7% this year.

Similarly, bullying by managers was reported by 36.3% of midwifery staff this year – an increase from 31% in 2016.

However, a smaller proportion of staff (32%) said they did not report the bullying, harassment or abuse they experienced, compared with the year before when 37% said they had not done

gill walton incoming rcm ceo may 2017

gill walton incoming rcm ceo may 2017

Gill Walton

In 2017, more than half of the midwives and maternity support workers (54.3%) said they had witnessed errors, near misses, or incidents that could have hurt patients – up slightly from 52% in 2016.

Errors that could have hurt staff were seen by 38.3% of respondents this year, a marginal increase from the 37% in 2016.

This year’s survey follows the launch of the RCM’s Caring for You campaign in 2016, aimed at improving the health, safety and wellbeing of midwifery staff at work.

In total, 134 NHS organisations – 81% – in the UK signed up to a charter the RCM introduced last year and some staff have reported improvements since then.

A total of 16.7% respondents to the survey said that since signing up to the charter their organisation had assessed staffing and hired more midwives, while 19.2% said they were more likely to take their break.

Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the RCM, said: “There have been improvements since our 2016 survey which shows that our Caring for You campaign is working and making a real difference to the working lives of midwives and maternity support workers.

“There have been improvements since our 2016 survey which shows that our Caring for You campaign is working”

Gill Walton

“This is a huge achievement thanks to the efforts of our health and safety representatives, stewards and RCM branches who have worked in partnership with heads of midwifery to tackle local issues.”

However, she warned the situation for many midwives was “worrying” and that this was not supporting them to deliver safe care.

“This is a real concern for the RCM and it should equally be a concern for employers and the government,” said Ms Walton.

“The lack of staff and resources will, and does affect the care our maternity professionals can deliver and this must change,” she added.

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