Midwives called on the government to “listen to them” or face losing valuable staff, as they took part in strike action today for the first time in their history.
Maternity workers spoke of their “disgust” and “outrage” at the government’s decision not to introduce a 1% blanket pay increase for all NHS staff against a backdrop of increasing financial difficulties.
“You can’t get cheap labour and professional, highly skilled people at the same time”
Members of the Royal College of Midwifery were on strike this morning for the first time in their union’s 133-year history, saying that “enough is enough” and that midwives deserved fair pay.
Shereen Nimmo, lead midwife at St Mary’s Hospital in London, said it was “absolutely disgusting” that most NHS staff would not see their pay increase in real terms over the coming year, which she said was especially hard on support workers in lower bands.
“They’re another essential part of our workforce who we can’t do without,” she said.
Joining her outside St Mary’s Hospital – part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust – was healthcare assistant Celeste Santos, who works with new mothers in the community.
“People are getting disenchanted with the profession. People are going to leave and the quality of service will start to go down”
She said she was finding it difficult to support her family on her current wage. “It’s appalling,” she said. “The government is not looking after us. If this continues there will be no nurses left to work.”
“I think about leaving,” she added. “I’ve got an older son who works in a pub and he gets more money than I do. That’s ridiculous.”
Meanwhile, at Whittington Health NHS Trust in north London, around a dozen RCM strikers urged the government to listen to their concerns, especially ahead of next May’s general election.
Speaking to Nursing Times, the trust’s RCM steward Terri Wogan-Webb highlighted that all midwives – junior and senior – have been “overwhelmingly supportive” of the action and called on the government to “take note and listen”.
“It’s very important we pay professionals appropriately,” she said. “You can’t get cheap labour and professional, highly skilled people at the same time.”
These views were shared by Anna White, midwife and RCM steward at University College London Hospital NHS Foundation Trust who had completed a night shift before joining striking in the rain.
Asked by Nursing Times what her message for the government was, she said: “Listen to us.”
“People are getting disenchanted with the profession. People are going to leave and the quality of service will start to go down,” she told Nursing Times from outside the trust’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson maternity wing, where around 20 midwives had set up their own RCM picket line.
Rebecca Anderson, midwife at The Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge, said workers were not asking “for the moon on a stick”, just fair pay so they could continue their jobs.
Midwife Catherine Winter had completed a 12.5 hour shift at the The Rosie before staying another four hours to strike.
She highlighted the low morale currently among midwives. “We are all passionate about our jobs as midwives and we want to provide the best care we can, but feel constantly devalued and it’s demoralising,” she said.
At nearby Hinchingbrooke Healthcare NHS Trust, East of England Unison representative Jo Rust said the service existed on the goodwill of staff who worked extra hours for no additional pay.
“The fact midwives don’t take a break saves the NHS millions every year,” she said.
In the RCM’s recent ballot, 82.2% of respondents voted in favour of taking strike action and 94.6% in favour of action short of a strike.
The turnout was 49.4%, which was significantly higher than other unions achieved.