South Yorkshire midwife opens up about pressures on maternity wards at Sheffield vigil over staff shortages

A midwife has spoken about the impact of staff shortages, after women in labour were diverted out of Sheffield to give birth.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 10:45 am

Alison Norris told how she had worked as a midwife for a decade but the pressure now was greater than she had ever experienced.

Speaking at a demonstration on Devonshire Green in Sheffield city centre on Sunday, she said ‘really, really excellent’ midwives were leaving the profession because the pressure they are under ‘grinds you down’.

"We’re used to coping with short-staffing. I’ve been a midwife for 10 years and midwifery’s been underfunded all that time, but it’s got worse in the last 18 months,” she said.

Crowds gather at Devonshire Green in Sheffield city centre to protest about midwife staffing shortages, as part of the UK Vigil for Maternity Crisis

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As well as the impact of Covid, she said the switch to a ‘continuity of care’ model, where women have the same midwife caring for them throughout their pregnancy, had made things tougher.

Why is there such a shortage of midwives?

While she welcomed the move, she said it required three to four times as many staff as the existing system, for which she said there were already too few employees.

Crowds gather at Devonshire Green in Sheffield city centre to protest about midwife staffing shortages, as part of the UK Vigil for Maternity Crisis

"If I’m trying to provide you and your family a bit of extra care because I think that’s what you need, who’s going to get less care because of that?” she said.

"If I’m having to move very quickly between your family and another family, what might I forget, what mistake might I make?

"All of that’s a stress all the time and it just grinds you down. I’ve seen really, really excellent midwives leave the profession this year because it’s taken too much of a toll on them personally and on their families.”

How is the shortage affecting expectant families in Sheffield?

Lexi Hurt addresses crowds who gathered at Devonshire Green in Sheffield city centre to protest about midwife staffing shortages, as part of the UK Vigil for Maternity Crisis

The UK Vigil for Maternity Crisis was organised by grassroots movement March with Midwives, which claims midwife numbers on maternity wards are ‘dangerously low’.

Scores of people turned out for the protest, which came just weeks after women in labour were diverted out of Sheffield to give birth due to staffing shortages at the city’s Jessop Wing maternity unit.

In June, the Care Quality Commission downgraded the Jessop Wing from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’, with inspectors flagging concerns about staff shortages and a failure to properly investigate and learn from safety incidents.

At Sunday’s demonstration, organisers highlighted a Royal College of Midwives survey which found that 57 per cent of midwives were looking to leave.

Why are so many midwives quitting?

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, which runs the Jessop Wing, earlier this month said 12 new midwives had joined or would be joining the trust by the end of November, with more than 300 new nurses having also joined since April.

The Department for Health and Social Care has said there are more midwives working across the NHS now than ever before and it is aiming to hire 1,200 more with a £95 million recruitment drive.

But demonstrators claimed retention was a big problem, with 29 midwives leaving for every 30 that join the profession each year.

Lexi Hurt, an expectant mother who attended the protest, said she wanted to show solidarity with midwives after having an ‘amazing’ experience with her first birth thanks to the care she received.

“I’m here to show that I stand with them. I support them, I support the work they do and I want change for them so that they can do the work they do in the best circumstances,” she said.

What is the message for expectant parents?

She added: “Across the NHS, there are shortages, but midwifery’s been particularly hard hit and it’s one of those areas that affects so many people.

“If you have a traumatic start with your birth, it affects your whole family.

“If, as a midwife, you’re trying to work under traumatic circumstances, it affects your ability to carry out your job.

“We’re seeing droves of midwives leaving the profession because of the strain.

“They were already pre-Covid, but since Covid it’s just become completely unsustainable.

She also had a message for other expectant parents who might be worried after hearing about midwife shortages.

“I can completely understand your worry. I’ve absolutely been there, waking up in the middle of the night, going ‘oh, my god’,” she said.

“But know that your midwife does care. They are giving you the absolute best that they can. Talk to them, open up those conversations. Don’t be afraid to push your trust, and get involved in things like this.

“Put pressure on the Government because really that’s the only thing that’s going to make a dramatic change.”