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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
'I worry about midwife shortages'
Jane Elliott
BBC News Online Health Staff

A midwife
There is a national shortage of midwives
National midwife shortages are thought to be endangering patient care.

A midwife in a busy London hospital tells of her fears for patients.

The midwife, who prefers not to be named, loves her job and feels passionately about her patients.

But she also worries about national midwife shortages and the adverse affect this is having on women coming into hospitals to give birth.

Like many other midwives, Claire works through breaks and volunteers for extra bank shifts to help keep the labour ward ticking over with enough staff and ensure births are as safe as possible.

But she knows that staffing levels nationally fall woefully short of the number of trained staff needed to provide the top care levels women want and need.


A recent survey in the British Medical Journal suggested that a shortage of midwives could increase the risk that things may go wrong during childbirth.

As a midwifery sister at the busy London maternity unit, Claire experiences both a management role and hands-on clinical work in the unit.

We do not have enough hands to give hands on care

She knows the pressures staff shortages can put people under, but says that with a lot of hard work the unit still manages to run smoothly and calmly.

"I can see it from both angles. The frustrations of running a unit where we have not got enough workers or where we are providing the care, but cannot provide the levels we wish.

"But we do not have enough hands to give hands on care.

"Yesterday I had about four women labouring in the corridor and without midwives there were no rooms. They were getting angrier and angrier by the minute.

"I was looking after a woman who had an epidural and two rooms away there was a woman screaming for an epidural but we had no midwives for her.

"I was apologising to her for her care, but this is not fair for anyone.

"She had a beautiful birth in the end, but that did not compensate."


But she said that the constant stories about midwife pressures were leaving patients worried.

"One of the women said to me 'You will look after me and my baby' and I said of course that is why you are here."

Claire explained that at any one time the unit could accommodate up to 12 women in different stages of labour, but that sometimes they could have more women waiting for rooms and midwives.

But she said the problems could not be sorted out nationally until there were more staff.

"I think there is a big problem with retention and recruitment. We can't recruit because young people are not coming into nursing and not coming into midwifery. The average age of a midwife is now about 30," she said.

And like other midwives, Claire realises her flexibility and willingness to work is helping plug the gaps in the service and protect the patients, but she knows this is just a stop gap.

"I always tell people that I work for a charity, you have to look at it that way to stay working in the NHS."

"Some days we can look after two women at a time but other days we have one woman who needs one to one care.

"Some days we have six or seven women in the corridor waiting for rooms and some days we have none."


But she said that despite the problems she does still love her job.

"I do not want to paint a grey picture of midwifery.

"I think we work as midwives because we enjoy the job, but some days everybody wants to leave because it is not easy. Some days your capacity for caring is ground down because it is not easy.

"I think I enjoy being a midwife I could have left the clinical area and opted out of the NHS, but I came back to it. I have got a masters and I could have gone into teaching, but I am passionate about helping women. I love the job but sometime I think where is the satisfaction?

"Giving birth is really special and I think that makes it all worth it."

She said that most of those who left the NHS go to get regular hours with jobs like health visiting and some take jobs that can mean them working part-time, but all this adds to the recruitment and retention problems.

Why midwives are leaving the NHS
12 Sep 03  |  Health
Concern over midwife shortages
16 May 03  |  England
More nurses register to work
16 Apr 03  |  Health
Hospitals suffer midwife shortage
29 Jan 03  |  England

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