WI members up and down the country are gathering in force today in a day of action to celebrate and support our midwives. The day of action coincides with the launch of a WI authored report, Support Overdue, which shines a spotlight on how midwives are being stretched to their very limits, and how this in turn is impacting on many women’s experiences of childbirth and the early days with a new baby.
Working in partnership with parenting charity NCT, we surveyed five and a half thousand new mums, who candidly told us about their maternity care – from pregnancy, to delivery and beyond. We heard about how 60% of women were simply not getting as much post-natal support as they needed, how the pledge to give women choices, as promised by the government, was failing most women, and how the level of care varied dramatically throughout the maternity pathway. It’s important to recognise that many women told us they experienced high quality care, but far too often women told us how they were left without adequate support during different times of the maternity pathway, when they needed care and reassurance – and how this had knock on effects for their family.
With the midwife staffing to birth ratio falling short across the country, Support Overdue presents a hotchpotch picture of maternity services, with the standard of care a woman can expect to receive all too often determined by her postcode. The maternity service is sometimes referred to as the ‘shop window’ of the NHS and, with giving birth the most common reason for going to hospital, it’s easy to see why. Ensuring that that ‘shop window’ provides patient-centred care is important not only for women, but for wider society and public health. That is why we are calling on the government and maternity providers to work harder to make a woman’s experience of birth a good one: by ending the chronic shortage of midwives; by allowing women the opportunity to build and maintain a relationships with their midwife; by giving women a real choice of where to give birth; and by ensuring that continuing post-natal care is in place.
Everyone who took part in our survey only had good things to say about midwives, who I know work hard to deliver care in very difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, the framework within which they’re operating is failing. The midwifery profession is under real pressure and morale is low. The government is training more midwives, which is of course to be celebrated. But unless we retain and value the midwives we already have, this will be a drop in the ocean, and we are only likely to see a vicious circle of declining numbers.
Support is long overdue for our stretched midwife workforce. I for one will be showing my support for midwives and new mums in the day of action tomorrow, and making sure that the NHS’s maternity services is one which is fit for purpose.