Earlier this month a health correspondent from The Independent contacted me via Twitter to ask me if I would be willing to comment on this article, written the day before.
The piece quoted the words of a very honest and courageous midwife, and I applaud her. I don’t usually like commentaries which could potential cause fear amongst women who use our maternity services…and I am always wary of journalists, for this very reason. However this article is very accurate, and I am sure 80% of midwives would agree with what is written.
I wrote about these issues here.
The RCM are continuously campaigning for more midwives, and although NHS England have published a staffing strategy placing onus on Trusts to ensure safe standards in terms of capacity and capability http://www.england.nhs.uk/2013/11/19/staff-guidance/, there aren’t enough midwives to fill posts. Support staff are crucial, as often midwives are doing non midwifery tasks, but often organisations can't afford them either. We are constantly reminded that there are increased pressures within maternity services due to an increasing birth rate and complexities of those using the service, but external and internal reviews of NHS organisations and departments, and risk management agendas (including processes relating to CNST) are adding to the strain through increased bureaucracy and fear.
It seems some midwives possess professional resilience to pressure and adversity in the workplace, managing to stay positive and motivated despite the increasing demands placed upon them (Hunter and Warren 2013). . One of the themes from this study findings was ‘building resilience’, where participants demonstrated the development of strategies to help themselves and others to cope. So where do student midwives and midwives get the support from, to help them to cope on a daily basis? Do they know whom these ‘resilient midwives’ are, to help them to build coping mechanism for preservation? Sometimes sharing a crisis moment with a work colleague or supervisor of midwives does the trick, and support is there and continues. But there are times when practitioners fail to share feelings for many reasons, including time, confidentiality, and confidence.
I had specific colleagues that I turned to in stressful times or moments of crisis, and I knew the things I could do to help me re-focus and keep things in perspective. In the early 1990s I had read Caroline Flint’s book, ‘Sensitive Midwifery’ (Flint 1991), and I loved and used the suggestions Caroline gave to midwives on self-care. I think they helped me.
I have written a short piece in February's edition of Practising Midwife, about how social media and online resources can help practitioners to stay in touch with like minded individuals and to glean tips to try to stay positive at work. And later this month I have written a @wemidwives chat to share ideas with nurses, midwives and students. Join in if you can!
In the meantime, these were my suggestions to the journalist, about how we can try to help midwives and improve maternity care:
The Government needs to hear and act in terms of resourcing increased midwife numbers. The problem will not go away. Choice, continuity of care and carer and the sustainability of independent midwifery are all crucial issues that need urgent attention, BUT WE NEED MORE MIDWIVES.
For maternity services, there needs to be a shift of focus on wellbeing instead of illness, and kindness and compassion instead of punitive culture where fear and blame prevails. The latter adds extra burden on an already pressured service. Although midwives are leaving due to increased stress at work, there are many who can’t, and they need to be valued and cared for.
We need an invigorated focus on reducing unnecessary medical intervention during childbirth, mainly because there is emerging evidence that the consequences are potentially catastrophic.
What are your thoughts?
Flint C (1991) Sensitive Midwifery Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd London