Maternity services must think more carefully about the best way to deploy older staff who may no longer be able to cope with some of the tougher demands of the job, according to senior midwives.
While older midwives had a wealth of experience and were a “hugely valuable resource”, they may struggle with the late nights, long shifts and physical and emotional strain of delivering babies round the clock, a conference heard yesterday.
“It’s about being creative, looking at what people can do and maybe moving them into different roles”
However, speakers noted that some midwifery managers may feel reluctant to raise the issue with more mature members of staff.
“This is not about age discrimination but about when do we say to people ‘You need to stop or slow down’?” said one senior midwife, adding that it was just as important to consider the needs of staff nearing the end of their careers as those who’d recently joined the profession.
Finding suitable roles for older midwives would increasingly become an issue, warned Tracey Cooper, consultant midwife at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust.
“This will become more of a problem in the future because the government wants us to work for longer and we can no longer retire at 55,” she said.
“It’s about being creative, looking at what people can do and maybe moving them into different roles,” added Ms Cooper, who was a senior advisor on the new safe staffing guidance for maternity units published last month by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
“We will need to be supporting and looking out for is our workforce, because they are older and some may well go on to develop early onset dementia”
Such roles could include telephone triage, workforce planning or giving training – which make the most of the skills and knowledge of experienced staff, she said.
Other solutions might be offering shorter shifts such as the choice of working for eight hours instead of 12, she told delegates at the event on Safe Midwife Staffing in Maternity Settings organised by Healthcare Conferences UK.
There was also debate over whether midwives needed to do dementia awareness training because of the age of their patients, following the government’s recent announcement that it should be undertaken by all NHS staff.
But Jane Herve, head of midwifery at Oxford University Hospitals Trust and another specialist adviser on the NICE guidance, highlighted that it could be important for ensuring the welfare of an ageing workforce.
“The people that we will need to be supporting and looking out for is our workforce rather than our women, because they are older and some may well go on to develop early onset dementia,” she said.
“There may even be a link between that and people we are performance managing,” she added.