March with midwives protest in Hull Photo:Ted Phillips
March with midwives protest in Hull Photo:Ted Phillips

Eleanor Donne, Essex Socialist Party

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the body that oversees and regulates health and social care in England, has found that nearly two thirds of maternity services are inadequate. This includes 15% of maternity units deemed so unsafe that there is a “high risk of avoidable harm to mother or baby”. This is double the number of unsafe units since last year .

Kate Terroni, interim deputy chief executive of the CQC, talks of a “deteriorating picture in maternity services”. This is very worrying news for anyone who is currently using or will need these services in the future. But it will come as no surprise to midwives and maternity support workers who are feeling overworked, underpaid and ‘burnt out’ by the stress of trying to plug the gaps in service left by chronic staff shortages. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has calculated that in just one week in March 2023 midwives across England worked 100,000 extra unpaid hours. Many had ‘gone the extra mile’ during the Covid pandemic, putting their health and that of their families at risk. But when normal times can still mean 12-hour shifts with no break or food, no wonder that ‘burnout’ is a growing issue, with staff on long-term sick or leaving for other, less stressful jobs.  

Before Covid there was already a shortage of 2,500 midwives in England and the RCM warned in 2021 of a further ‘midwife exodus’, citing eight out of ten concerned with staff levels and two thirds not satisfied with the quality of care they were able to deliver. Dr Taylor of the RCM has stated that there is a “direct correlation between staffing levels and safety”.

The Maternity Safety Alliance, made up of families whose babies have died or been harmed in the care of the NHS, is calling for a statutory public enquiry into England’s maternity services. The RCM has stated that it shares the frustration of the MSA at the pace of progress in maternity safety and the lack of action after previous enquiries. In the same statement it rightly says that systemic change is needed in the NHS.

Step one is to get rid of the Tory government. But Labour under Keir Starmer is not committed to ending the internal market in the NHS, or increasing public spending. Health unions will have to continue to battle for decent pay and resources for NHS workers, but we also need genuine systemic change in the whole of society so that profit doesn’t come before life and health.