Midwives warn Minister over maternity staffing

Public hospital maternity unit staffing levels are too low to provide safe care and overworked midwives don’t have enough time to educate new mums.

Midwives at 10 public hospitals have warned the state government they can no longer rely on understaffed maternity services to deliver a safe level of care to mothers and their babies.

In an open letter to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, the midwives urged the government to commit to mandated ratios in maternity services.

“It is dangerous and unsafe when our hospitals are operating understaffed. Mistakes can be made,” the letter said.

The letter was endorsed by NSWNMA members at Blacktown, John Hunter, Lismore, Liverpool, Nepean, Royal North Shore, Royal Prince Alfred, Tamworth, Tweed and Wollongong hospitals.

“We stand united as midwives who can no longer rely on our current system to deliver a safe level of care to mothers and their babies,” they wrote.

“Currently, there are no ratios of midwives to mothers. This means some of us can be caring for up to 12 mothers plus their babies at any one time.”

Such ratios would “provide a clear and accountable system that patients can rely on and midwives can trust at all times.”

“The staffing system in NSW public hospitals as it currently stands is broken. It is not being delivered on a shift-by-shift basis and we have found management is able to short-staff wards because they can balance the hours over a week.

“We need better ratios of at least one midwife to three mothers in postnatal wards to provide a clear and accountable system that patients can rely on and midwives can trust at all times.

“Many of us are parents and will no longer stand by while mothers and their babies miss out on much needed midwifery care. All mothers in NSW, regardless of where they live, should have access to safe, quality care.”

Insufficient time for education of mothers

The letter said nothing is being done to improve working conditions to encourage more midwives into the sector and there is a lack of support for young midwives.

“High vacancies and overtime mean educators and midwifery managers are constantly having to work on the floor.

“Without the ability for educators to provide adequate training, midwives are failing to obtain the skills needed to support junior midwives.”

The midwives’ letter linked the current staffing system with a decline in breastfeeding rates, which have dropped 8.4 per cent since 2011, according to NSW Health statistics.

It said: “An important part of our job is to educate mothers and provide physical and emotional support to women and their babies. Yet, under the current staffing system, there is not enough time for us to provide the level of support and education new mothers need during these vital days.”