‘Midwives are at breaking point and soon there won’t be any left’

Maryla Crosski, 34, warned midwives are ‘leaving in the masses’ (Picture: Getty)

An exhausted midwife has warned that maternity services are at ‘breaking point’ with colleagues ‘leaving in the masses’ because they are so burnt out.  

Maryla Crosski, 34, said that staff shortages are so bad at her London hospital she regularly works a 12.5 hour shift without taking a break to eat, have a cup of tea or even go the toilet.  

Today, she will join parents, doulas and hundreds of other health care professionals in nation-wide vigils to raise awareness of the workforce crisis, which campaigners describe as a ‘genuine national emergency’.

March With Midwives, a grassroots organisation, say giving birth in the UK is becoming ‘critically unsafe’ and action is needed urgently to address this.

Maryla told ‘I am taking part in the march in Sunday because I absolutely agree with the reasons for the march, which is to raise awareness of a crisis that has been brewing for a long time.

‘It’s at breaking point and we need to let everyone know, we need help and we need the government to do something about it.

‘A midwife’s job is to advocate for women’s rights and to look after women who are having babies.

Maryla says midwives are at breaking point, with staff shortages driving more people out of the profession

‘If more and more midwives leave, and if the students are being trained without those midwives, what is maternity going to turn into? Will there be any midwives? Who’s going to look after these people? If all the midwives go, there’ll be no one.’

Maryla said maternity services have long relied on the ‘goodwill’ of women but after a pandemic and a paltry pay rise, that is turning into ‘burnout and depression’.

She said midwives are being driven out of the NHS by understaffing, the work load and and fears they can’t deliver safe care to women under the current system.

This is putting even more pressure on those left to ‘plug the gaps’, particularly students who are being drafted in to help.

Maryla, from Poland, said Brexit also had an impact as many foreign workers returned home because they ‘felt unwelcome’.

‘There’s a massive, massive staffing crisis,’ she said.

‘The government has known for years we are short of thousands of midwives, but still it takes away bursaries from students and gives them £5,000 a year. That’s not enough if you’re a mum or if you’re a nurse training to be a midwife.  

Nearly two thirds of midwives are considering leaving the profession (Picture: March With Midwives)

‘We already had midwives who were leaving as they were unable to meet the demands of the system – the pandemic has just made that worse because people are getting sick and because people have have not felt supported.

‘We had claps which were wonderful, but then being offered a 1% pay rise was really demoralizing and did not make people feel like they were appreciated.

‘Midwifery and maternity services are largely staffed by women, our goodwill has been keeping it going.

‘That goodwill has either run out or it’s turned into into depression and burnout, and people are leaving so they can recoup and fill their own cups.’

A report published by NHS earlier this year revealed the number of NHS midwives working in England as of May had fallen by almost 300 in two months – the fastest fall in over 10 years.

But the staffing problem is far from new.

It has been more than 10 years since then Conservative leader David Cameron promised to boost midwife numbers by 3,000.

In 2017, the government controversially scrapped bursaries for midwives, despite a huge staffing crisis already underway (Picture: Getty)

While more midwives were trained, the retention rate meant that staffing levels have remained a serious problem. It is estimated England is still short of 3,500.

A major problem is that over the years, pay has not kept up with the rising cost of living.

Salaries start at less than £25,000 – far below the national average. And bursaries were scrapped in 2017, meaning students are getting into massive debt ‘to work in a job that is then underpaid’, said Maryla.

The row over NHS pay did little to convince midwives to stay, with a recent survey finding 92% feel undervalued by the government.

All of this has been exacerbated by the demands of the pandemic, as midwives find themselves suffering more than ever with burnout, anxiety and stress.

Maryla worked as a nurse for five years before training as a midwife, completing her studies in the height of the first wave.

She was so exhausted by the time she had qualified, she had to take a year out to ‘look after herself’.

Describing some of the physical and emotional pressures of the job, Maryla said: ‘When you can’t pee for a very long time and you’re holding it in, that can cause UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) which can damage your kidneys.

‘I have colleagues who have had chronic UTIs, I had one myself as a student.

‘You can’t leave the room when you have got tasks and tasks to do and you’re number one priority is protecting the person that you’re looking after.

 ‘If no one can come and relieve you because there’s no staff then you can’t go for a pee. It’s the same with cups of tea, same with drinking water.

‘You don’t really think about it until you get home and you actually manage to put your feet up. Even then, your mind is often still thinking, did I give good care today? Is that woman ok?

‘I think we’ve all lost sleep worrying about if we have done a good enough job.

‘I did suffer from burnout and I took a year out because of the pressures.’

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After returning to work in August, Maryla is now determined to ‘fight for maternity and the NHS’.

She said it’s not just midwives affected by the staffing crisis, with mothers suffering too due to the closure of Midwife-Led Units (MLS).

These special centres are run by midwives and offer women with low-risk pregnancies a calm environment for their baby to be delivered.

But understaffing means they aren’t always open, with women forced to give birth in labour wards instead.

‘It’s happening everywhere. There is no choice for women,’ said Maryla.

‘I’m worried that maternity will become privatised and good care will only be available for those who can afford to pay.’

Despite the demands of the job, Maryla said midwives ‘do our best to keep everybody safe’.

But March With Midwives, which was founded by parents and doulas in solidarity with the profession, say the safety of birth in the UK is in crisis.

The group, which has thousands of members on Facebook, has collected a raft of personal accounts from mothers all over the country who have had difficult and isolating births.

Women claim they are being pressured into induced labours, forced to abandon their birth plans and left alone on hospital wards for hours on end.

One mother said she ‘passed out in a cold blood red bath’ for three hours following a ‘long and difficult labour’.

The woman, who wished to stay anonymous, said the midwife who found her had to ‘physically rub her body against mine to try to warm me up as I was starting to look blue’.

She added: ‘All the midwives were incredible when they were there, the problem was that there wasn’t enough of them on shift to be there.  

‘My story luckily ended well, lots of PTSD and anxiety but no lasting medical problems, my story could have easily ended in tragedy.’

The Department of Heath has pledged to hire 1,200 more midwives with a £95 million recruitment drive.

But campaigners fear this won’t help if more isn’t done to retain current staff.

A recent Royal College of Midwives (RCM) survey found that almost 60% of staff are thinking of leaving their profession within the next year.

Why are midwives leaving the NHS?

A Royal College of Midwives survey found:

  • 60% of UK midwives are considering leaving the profession
  • 57% said they planned to leave the NHS in the next year
  • 80% of those planning to leave cited inadequate staffing levels
  • 67% said they were unhappy with the quality and safety of care they are currently able to deliver

In a direct message to Boris Johnson, Maryla said: ‘You can’t fill the bathtub with new midwives if you haven’t put a plug in. The midwives we’ve got are leaving in masses, that’s not a fix.’

March With Midwives added: ‘It is clear that maternity services in the UK are in crisis, giving birth in the UK; a high-income country, is becoming critically unsafe. This is unacceptable.

‘Where we have women, birthing people and babies at risk; their families, communities and countries become sick. This is a genuine national emergency which impacts every level of society.

‘We call on the UK government to implement urgent crisis management and resources. Government promises are not being kept and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Maternity must take responsibility for their silence and call for immediate action.’

A spokesperson from the Department for Health and Social Care said: ‘We are committed to patient safety, eradicating avoidable harms and making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth.

‘Midwives do an incredibly important job and we know how challenging it has been for those working during the pandemic. There are more midwives working in the NHS now than at any other time in its history and we are aiming to hire 1,200 more with a £95 million recruitment drive.

‘The mental health and wellbeing of staff remains a key priority and the NHS continues to offer a broad range of support including through dedicated helplines and mental health and wellbeing hubs.’

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