Midwives, birth workers, parents and children are set to protest across Britain this Sunday at the shocking state of NHS maternity services.
Campaigners say the service is so stretched that maternity care has become dangerous and is putting people at risk.
The Royal College of Midwives says some 67 percent of their members are unhappy with the safety and quality of the care they are able to deliver.
The unions report the health service is short of at least 3,500 midwives, and that the situation is getting worse.
Becky Talbot works as a community doula—someone who helps women during pregnancy—in Cambridgeshire.
She told Socialist Worker that she helped initiate the wave of protests with a single Facebook post written just four weeks ago.
In the post she said that the government wasn’t listening to midwives and families, and that there should be protests and vigils everywhere.
The March With Midwives page now has 19,000 supporters and has inspired protests in 62 towns and cities this weekend.
“There simply aren’t enough midwives to keep women safe,” she said. “As a result we’ve had women giving birth in toilets and corridors—and we’ve had a birth on a motorway hard shoulder recently.
“It’s become a dangerous and uncaring service, and that’s not the fault of the midwives. It’s the government that has not funded midwifery properly.
“We are in a situation where for every 30 new midwives that are trained, 29 are leaving.”
Becky says that her local Rosie Hospital is often so overwhelmed that it has to close its doors to pregnant women and send them to other units further away.
“Midwives just don’t have the time to provide the level of care that they want to,” she said. “Too often they are running from room to room, putting out fires. It can’t go on like this.”
A large group of midwives in Lincolnshire have answered Becky’s call. More than 43 staff from the maternity department at the county hospital are set to join a vigil at Lincoln cathedral on Sunday.
Midwife Laura Morley told The Lincolnite newspaper that in her hospital “every single shift is short staffed”.
“We pull together, skip meals, leave work late, and cover extra shifts because we want to give the very best care to women using our services but we are at breaking point,” she said.
“Ultimately, we shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t be in a position where maternity services are so grossly underfunded that we have to make those sacrifices to deliver the care women deserve.” Anger over maternity care comes as the wider NHS crisis grows.
A report by ambulance service bosses in England this week said up to 160,000 people year come to harm because they are stuck in ambulances queuing outside hospitals.
Some 12,000 people are suffering “severe harm” as a result.
These include people with life threatening emergencies.
Years of cuts to services, including mental health and social care, are now having a knock on effect.
One London ambulance worker said, “We’ve definitely seen the change—not just over the course of the pandemic but over the last few years.”
This Sunday’s protests, all set for 2pm, are a chance to bring together everyone angry at the running down of the NHS.
Scottish appetite for strikes
Nurses in the RCN union in Scotland have voted in favour of strikes and industrial action over pay.
In an indicative ballot 58.2 percent of those who voted said they’d be willing to strike.
Some 89.5 percent said they were prepared to take action short of a strike, such as not booking on for any overtime work. The turnout in the ballot was 29.3 percent.
The indicative ballot follows the below inflation, four percent NHS pay offer implemented by the Scottish Government earlier this year.
RCN Scotland previously rightly rejected the poor offer, while most other unions including Unison and Unite voted to accept it. The RCN is now considering its next steps, which could include a formal industrial action ballot.
The news came as nursing shortages were revealed to be allowing “profiteering” staffing agencies to shamelessly triple their rates.
NHS trusts and care home bosses are increasingly competing for staff. While nurses’ pay remains low, some agencies are now charging employers £55 an hour.
The only way to attract more people into nursing is to substantially raise pay and make working conditions better.
That’s why the ongoing ballots in the RCN in England and the GMB and Unison unions are so important.