THOUSANDS of midwives and their supporters protested in towns and cities across the UK at 2.00pm on Sunday to highlight the crisis in maternity services.
Rallies were held in London’s Parliament Square, Birmingham and Manchester and many other town and city centres in England, Scotland and Wales.
Elizabeth Duff tweeted: ‘#MarchwithMidwives 100s of midwives & supporters in Parliament Square today expressing frustration, grief, courage in crisis & above all togetherness. Mums, dads, birthing people, babies, children. Everyone’s been born: mostly with help of a midwife.’
The protests were organised by March with Midwives UK, which said in a statement: ‘It is clear that maternity services in the UK are in crisis.
‘Giving birth in the UK, a high-income country, is becoming critically unsafe. This is unacceptable.
‘Where we have women, birthing people and babies at risk; their families, communities and countries become sick.
‘This is a genuine national emergency which impacts every level of society.
‘We call on the UK government to implement urgent crisis management and resources.
‘Government promises are not being kept and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Maternity must take responsibility for their silence and call for immediate action.’
The group called on politicians:
- to listen to all staff and service users and their advocates;
- fund emergency retention of staff; enable all qualified midwives who are willing to work, and support students to enter training and finish their courses;
- reduce demands on staff.
Giving its support to the protests, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) warned that staff are exhausted after years of working in wards with ‘too few staff and inadequate resources.’
The RCM executive director for external relations, Jon Skewes, stressed that staff are ‘reaching the end of their tether’, resulting in more than half of all midwives looking to leave the profession.
Skewes said: ‘NHS Trusts and Boards have relied on the goodwill of staff, and their genuine love of what they do, to maintain services – but staff are reaching the end of their tether.
‘Last month, we published a survey that showed that 57% of midwives are looking to leave – and the biggest group among them are those who have only been working for five years or less.
‘The UK and national governments have to do more, not only to train and recruit new midwives into the NHS, but to retain the ones we have.
‘Staff are frankly exhausted, many feel like they have nothing left to give – and services are suffering as a result.
‘We’re grateful to March with Midwives for highlighting the work we have been doing to get politicians and policy makers to pay attention to this untenable situation.’
In Nottingham, dozens of supporters set off from Forest Recreation Ground at 2.00pm.
Organiser Chantelle Thornley, a community midwife in Nottinghamshire, said: ‘I have been a midwife for 25 years and it is the first time I have felt I need to act.
‘We work a 13-hour day.
‘Most of the time we barely have time to get a drink or go to the toilet.
‘We are expected to look after three to four labouring women at one time.
‘How can you give them your undivided attention?’
Katie Campion, an anti-natal educator, helped to organise the march of over a hundred in Leeds.
She said: ‘Midwives are stretched, they’re burnt out, they’re ready to leave and it’s about the safety of the birthing women, the parents and the midwives as well.
‘Physically and mentally they can’t cope with what they have to deal with at the moment and it’s about supporting them.’
One of the hundreds of participants demonstrating at College Green in Bristol, midwife Sophie Inman said: ‘You are part of this beautiful daily experience but it’s being tainted by the struggles of staffing in the country.
‘At the moment we are struggling every single day.
‘We’re turning up to work not knowing if there’s going to be enough of us.
‘It’s a national issue and I’m so proud to be a part of this nationwide movement to try and eradicate that.’
Katie Falvey, a 21-year-old final year student midwife from Essex studying in Wales, spoke out at the rally in Cardiff.
She said: ‘We need to make sure that the government and public are aware of the crisis we’re facing.’
On the march in Bangor, new mum Vikki Mill said that without support from her midwives, she or her daughter ‘simply wouldn’t be here today’.
She stressed: ‘My story is not unique. To give birth, you rely on midwives.
‘It’s a momentous time in someone’s life but you need medical trained professionals.’
The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) charity, founded in 1960 by Sally Willington to support women and families to achieve the birth that they want, issued a statement earlier in November.
AIMS Statement concerning the nationwide March With Midwives vigils taking place on November 21st 2021
‘Times are incredibly tough across the maternity services in the UK at the moment.
‘AIMS would like to take this opportunity to thank every single member of the maternity staff teams across the UK, and all those who support them, for doing their best in the most difficult of circumstances.
‘As in many other areas of life, the Covid19 pandemic has shone a light on existing weaknesses in our maternity services as well as adding its own pressures.
‘Most immediately, the pandemic situation, in addition to the effects of Brexit, creates a staffing crisis that we desperately need to get through together.
‘We need well-supported maternity staff to be available to offer families the support they need, when and where they need it.
‘It’s not complicated, even if it seems particularly hard to achieve: well-supported staff are most likely to be able to support families well.
‘The March with Midwives vigils across the country this weekend will see service users standing in solidarity with maternity staff, and midwives in particular, to offer their moral support and to draw attention to the current crisis.
‘This mass action offers an important commentary on how important midwives are to families in every single area of the UK and how keenly the current crisis is being felt.
‘The intention of the vigils sits well with AIMS’ own longstanding call to action: as we frequently remind ourselves, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
‘As we know well in AIMS, raising awareness is the first step towards achieving change.
‘Urgent action is certainly needed to shore up what seems to be a maternity service that is losing staff at a catastrophic rate.
‘The range of issues that have led to the current situation with regard to midwifery staffing have been well-documented.
‘But this is not a new problem. For too long, we have seen poor retention levels in midwifery: this is a service that seems unable to support its own staff, including our precious newly-qualified members of staff, with frequent reports of bullying.
‘In England, this focus of the Better Births Report (2016), and an issue which the ongoing Maternity Transformation Programme has been working to address, with a particular focus on improving leadership within midwifery and the maternity services more generally.
‘AIMS continues to scrutinise the implementation progress of Better Births, in our role as “critical friend” and as a member of the Stakeholder Council.
‘So for AIMS, we remember today that we are in the midst of a Maternity Transformation Programme, which continues.
‘And we thank everyone participating in the vigils – including some of our Members and Volunteers – for reminding us why the work to improve the maternity services is so important. Together, we move forward.’