Midwives feel 'gaslit on industrial scale' by Scottish Government as they fear 'lack of safe care' for patients

Understaffing has left many midwives in Scotland fearful they are not providing safe care as one said she feels like she is “screaming into a void” due to the lack of acknowledgement from the Scottish Government.

Sunday, 31st July 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Sunday, 31st July 2022, 9:43 am

The number of nurses and midwives registered in Scotland has risen by 280 in the past year, taking the total number to a record 71,802.

However, midwives have told Scotland on Sunday the increase is “nowhere near” demand levels as they are concerned about the safety of care they provide.

A recent survey of Scottish members from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) found half of respondents say they rarely have enough staff to provide safe care.

Midwives are feeling 'forced' to sell their annual leave as they worry about the safety of care they are providing pregnant women in Scotland due to staff shortages.

Lara*, a midwife at a health board in Scotland, said she has suffered from stress and suicidal thoughts as she feels unable to provide the right care due to the staffing crisis.

The 29-year-old said women are facing delays to their pregnancy care as a result of the shortage.

The midwife said: “There’s not enough midwives on shift to deal with what is coming through the front door.

"You can’t predict when women are going to go into labour so that is an untold stress for us.”

Leah Hazard, a midwife in Glasgow and author of Hard Pushed: a Midwife’s Story.

The midwife said she has never seen as many closures of her ward due to staffing shortages as she has this year.

A midwife in Aberdeen said they had to close a Peterhead ward last week due to "severe shortages”.

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There are also concerns midwives areselling their annual leave.

Midwife helping woman in holding newborn baby

Leah Hazard, a midwife who works in Glasgow, said: "I didn’t even think it was happening in my health board until my colleague texted me saying it’s happening here and we can sell it [annual leave] back for time and a half.”

Ms Hazard said midwives also feel pressure to work extra bank shifts when they are on annual leave from their main posts.

The midwife worries financial pressure will force staff into selling annual leave and taking on an “unhealthy amount” of shifts.

Lara said: “It frustrates me that I’m having to jump from room to room when I shouldn’t be. I’m very passionate about this job but I can’t give the care that’s expected of me.

"We’re trying our very best in a bad situation but I don’t know how much resilience is left.”

The Best Start plan, released in 2017, is the Scottish Government’s five-year map for the improvement of maternity and neonatal services.

It looks at moving towards a “continuity of care” model so patients have named midwives who see them for all their appointments.

However, Lara and her team have been “unable to work the model properly” as they are having to cover shortages in other wards.

The midwife said: “My best friend got a job through the plan but she was off sick with stress and nearly suicidal within six months of starting.

“I’ve faced the exact same problems as a result of the programme.

"Best Start is contributing to a historic staffing shortage. It’s come at the wrong time and it’s not being run the way it should be.

"A lot of people are trying to find a way out. I know of a lot of older members of staff who are taking early retirement and I know a few of my friends who are trying to get pregnant to get out of this.”

Lara also expressed concerns over feeling unable to properly support students on placement, saying she felt “heart-sorry” for those entering the profession.

The midwife said: “There needs to be an awareness of this crisis.

"We talk about ambulances waiting for six hours which is bad but when we have women waiting three days for a high risk induction pregnancy that’s not okay either.

“We’re screaming into a void.”

Ms Hazard said: "It’s like being gaslit on an industrial scale. If you look at the government you’d be led to believe that everything is absolutely fine."

Acknowledgement from the Scottish Government there is a problem would be “respectful and appreciated”, said Ms Hazard.

She believes industrial action amongst midwives is “very likely”.

The RCM Scotland recently balloted members on whether to accept a five per cent pay offer with the ballot closing on 3 August.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "It is easier than ever to become a midwife in Scotland. The £10,000 bursary for Scottish midwifery students is the highest in the UK and those with healthcare backgrounds can access our fast-track scheme.

"This has delivered nearly twice the amount of student midwives in the past ten years, meaning we are on track to deliver improvements and ensure new mothers get the support they need during pregnancy and beyond."

*The midwife’s name has been changed for safeguarding reasons.