Rallies put understaffing of midwives in the spotlight

The public are increasingly aware of the need for ratios to overcome a statewide shortage of midwives.

Midwives have held lunchtime rallies outside many of the state’s public hospitals in support of ratios of at least one midwife to three mothers in postnatal wards.

At the Wollongong Hospital rally, NSWNMA members were joined by former maternity patients who spoke to the media about their birth experiences.

Wollongong councillor Cath Blakey – who brought her one-month-old daughter Jedda to the rally – told the Illawarra Mercury she had complications with pre-eclampsia so had to spend two weeks in the maternity ward prior to Jedda’s birth.

 “I had my baby by emergency caesarean and when we were moved back to the ward, we were counted as one patient even though I’d had major abdominal surgery.

“It’s a sneaky way to understaff hospitals – by not counting babies as patients.

“While the care I received from the nurses and midwives at Wollongong was fantastic, they were restrained by lack of staff.”

NSWNMA branch president, Sarah Morton, said midwives received strong support from “women who understand what is going on and want to help change it.”

“We are very lucky to have amazing community support. People are starting to understand that we need increased funding statewide because every single maternity unit in the state is understaffed.”

Midwives would work more hours with ratios

At Wollongong Hospital, two midwives look after as many as 28 women during night shift. Sometimes, only one midwife and one registered nurse or enrolled nurse are rostered on overnight.

“The staff are just too busy to give women all the breastfeeding support they need, which is a serious public health issue,” Sarah said.

At the end of 2018, the maternity unit was short-staffed by about 18 full-time equivalent midwives, including permanent and temporary staff.

“During one recent four-week roster period there was a total of 56 hours of overtime worked in the birth unit and only 19 hours of that was sick leave – the rest was to cover gaps in the rosters.

“People have had to come off the floor to fill educators’ positions that haven’t been replaced so there has been lots of overtime recently.

“Hospital management are working hard to get recruitment happening and using casuals but unfortunately there are just not enough midwives available.

“Management are doing what they can – we just need legislated ratios in order to safely provide this care.”

Sarah said midwives work a 20-hour week on average and many would work more hours if the workplace was not severely understaffed.

“People who work in short-staffed situations tend to reduce their hours. The NSWNMA has done a survey where at least half of respondents would increase their midwifery hours if we had adequate ratios.”