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Maternity underfunding means care not based on women’s safety

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Maternity underfunding means care not based on wom According to the RCM, rising demands on maternity services and underfunding have created a ‘perfect storm’ of factors affecting safety

Some NHS trusts and boards are basing midwifery staffing levels on what they can afford, not women and baby’s needs, due to chronic underfunding, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said.

According to the RCM, rising demands on maternity services are colliding with years of underfunding to create a ‘perfect storm’ of factors affecting maternity safety and quality. England has a chronic shortage of over 2000 midwives and the situation is deteriorating with midwife numbers falling month on month, worsened further by pandemic related staff sickness and absences.

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‘Women and their safety are still not being put at the centre of care. If this was the case, we would see significant amounts of additional funding and real efforts to support, retain and recruit staff, and we are not. There is a black hole in the centre of our maternity services where more money and staff should be. I have no doubt this is undermining maternity staff efforts to deliver the safest and best possible care for women and their babies,’ said Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director, Midwife at the RCM.

‘We know also that many staff are still afraid to speak out when they know something is wrong for fear of reprisals and recrimination. We must flip this thinking where it happens on its head. Every workplace must have a culture that encourages and supports staff to raise their voice, and then acts on it, because they will be the ones delivering the safest care.’

The RCM says that other UK countries are also starting to feel the bite of staffing shortages, which is having an impact on the safety and quality of care for women, and also means many women with more complex needs such as mental health problems are not getting the care they need and deserve. This is also leaving staff exhausted, overwhelmed, fragile and feeling massively undervalued.

‘Staff are working even harder and then harder again to continue delivering the safest possible care. They can only do this for so long before they and the system relying upon those efforts breaks, and I think we are close to this,’ added Ms Harlev-Lam.

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‘We must see urgent investment in midwives, maternity support workers and doctors. We must once and for all see governments really solve maternity staffing shortages and invest in services now and for the long term. Failing to do this means less safe care for women and babies, and intolerable and unsustainable pressures on staff, both of which are the very opposite of what we all want to see.’

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