Dire situation forces Blacktown midwives to speak out

Traumatised and fatigued midwives at Blacktown Hospital are in desperate need of relief from unsafe staffing levels, which are putting patient safety and their professional registration at risk.

Following multiple infant fatalities over the past 18 months and ongoing staffing concerns, the midwives have given Western Sydney Local Health District 48 hours to address their concerns.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said Health Minister Brad Hazzard needs to urgently intervene in the matter.

“The situation is dire and many of these midwives no longer feel supported, despite repeatedly raising their concerns with hospital management,” said Mr Holmes.

“Since 2015, births at Blacktown Hospital have increased 52%, while staffing has only risen 11%.

“Year on year, the number of babies delivered at the hospital has continued to grow, with around 4,100 projected births this year.

“Currently, they’re averaging 11.5 births every 24 hours at Blacktown, with often only seven midwives rostered per shift. Meanwhile, at Westmead Hospital, midwives are assisting with an average 13.7 deliveries in 24 hours, yet they have ten midwives rostered per shift.

“For the past two years, our members at Blacktown Hospital have been battling short staffing and workloads issues which were only exacerbated after they relocated to a new, larger birthing unit as part of the hospital’s redevelopment.

“Due to obstetrician shortages, midwives are being trained to take on more roles, increasing their workloads each shift. On a regular basis, they’re also prevented from leaving work early if they miss meal breaks.

“Midwives are often being rostered for multiple day and night shifts of up to 64 hours over seven days, despite 56 hours being the maximum.

“Not only are they burning out with fatigue, many of the midwives have been traumatised by tragic deaths and believe the staffing issue has become untenable, putting their professional registrations at risk.”

Mr Holmes said the conditions were unsafe for midwives and patients, increasing the risk of further tragic outcomes.

One midwife described how many of them were struggling with the lack of support: “But most of us stay because we love what we do. We are passionate about our women and their babies. We are dedicated to them and their needs.”

Members of the NSWNMA’s Blacktown Hospital Branch are seeking urgent additional staffing while the Local Health District carries out a review of BirthRate Plus, the model used to determine staffing levels across maternity services.

They’re also requesting an immediate review of the hospital’s maternity services and calling for all existing vacancies to be filled.

Branch members have sought a meeting with the Local Health District and will consider their industrial options if staffing is not increased to safe levels.