By Dimple K Raja, a clinical negligence claims specialist at Hudgell Solicitors who supports families in cases of negligence at birth.
A recent study of more than 2,700 midwives found that some are working 12 hour shifts with no break. The midwives are worried that the ‘dangerous’ demands placed upon them could lead to tragic mistakes.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) study found that some midwives are looking after up to 15 mothers and babies at a time and the overwhelming workload being placed upon them is a primary reason for many leaving their jobs.
It all made for very sad reading. But for me, perhaps the most telling statement to come out of the research was that some midwives reported not being listened to when they told managers they feared for the safety of mothers and babies.
Other midwives said they experienced bullying from senior staff and of those questioned in the poll, 31 per cent had already left the profession, while 69 per cent intended to leave in the next two years.
This matter is very much close to my heart given my work as a clinical negligence solicitor where I often support families who have lost babies due to negligence during pregnancy and birth.
Midwives are often a pregnant woman’s only contact prior to giving birth. They are dedicated, passionate individuals who have chosen a career path that is hugely important to us all by helping to safely deliver new babies in to the world. The problem is they are being let down by a lack of resource, a lack of training, poor equipment and at times a lack of respect from their own colleagues.
I have handled cases where the concerns of midwives have been ignored by senior doctors who have been proved wrong. Consultant obstetricians and registrars can often be dismissive of a midwife’s opinion on how best to progress a birth and whilst, of course, senior medical staff are there to give their more qualified opinion, I question whether midwives are always given the respect they deserve.
It would certainly be a very dangerous practice to dismiss people who have safely brought many – perhaps hundreds – of new lives into the world and do it every day. I am sure midwives who have experienced this will harbour a strong feeling of resentment, which is completely understandable.
This, combined with a lack of training (a recent survey by the Baby Lifeline charity revealed most trusts commit four or less days to in-house training a year), can only lead to these vital cogs in the maternity process feeling undervalued and perhaps even the potential scapegoats when things go wrong.
It’s no wonder that many have reported feeling depressed and concerned that extreme tiredness might lead to a “tragic mistake”.
Sadly, we see the consequences of such tragic mistakes on a day to day basis in our work.
Mistakes leave children with life-long illnesses, leading to huge compensation settlements to provide suitable care and support, or lead to the loss of life – a devastating event for any family for which no amount of damages can ever suitably compensate.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said the findings were “saddening, dispiriting and worrying”.
She added that ‘maternity services are performing as well as they are on the backs of the selfless dedication of midwives and other maternity staff, and their capacity to go that extra mile for mothers and babies, day after day.’
I’d completely agree with both statements.
Let’s hope the Government is listening and that something is firstly done to prevent talented and dedicated staff leaving the NHS.
Then let’s do more to encourage young people into the profession and keep them there through training, recognition and respect for the work they do.