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Midwives demand action over assaults on NHS care

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The March With Midwives movement has no official backing from health service unions.
Issue 2782
100 midwives with posters such as "Don't let the Tories wreck our NHS".

Protesting in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of midwives from all over Britain joined protests on Sunday. They are furious about increasingly dangerous maternity care—and the toll short staffing is taking on health workers.

Many demonstrators talked about the way mothers and babies are being put at risk and how the government has failed to act.

Midwife Anna joined a rally of about 400 people in London’s Parliament Square. She told Socialist Worker that services were at a “tipping point”. “There are too few midwives and those we have are stretched to the limit,” she said.

“Lots of us are stressed and everyone knows when they go into work they won’t be able to provide the level of care they’d ideally want to. We are working extra hours, staying late and working on our breaks.”

Anna said that more midwives are leaving the profession than new starters are joining it. “It’s easy to recruit people who want to do the job but it’s very hard to retain people,” she said. 

“We can’t train people fast enough to replace those that are leaving.”

Former midwife Yasmin agrees. “I left because I was exhausted, overworked and stressed out,” she told Socialist Worker.

“I’d been qualified for five years but I was forced to take a break. When I was training eight years ago we were told there were only a small number of jobs available. Now there are not enough staff.”

Anna says that changes made during the worst periods of the pandemic are now being used to cover up for cuts.

“When Covid hit we had to reduce face to face meetings with mothers. But now we are still doing most of our consultancy online,” she said. 

“It’s not about the pandemic anymore, it’s about low staffing levels.”

“We used to have four consultancy teams for home births. That has been reduced to one.”

The March With Midwives movement was set up on Facebook only a few weeks ago. It has no official backing from any of the health service unions.

But despite scant resources and materials, volunteers and activists managed to coordinate more than 70 protests.

Socialist Worker has so far received reports of protests of between 100 and 300 people in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Swansea and York.

In Birmingham, where 150 midwives and supporters protested, a local health worker reports, “There were many passionate speeches about the need to change the system, and much singing and chanting.

“There was a particularly good speech from the daughter of a midwife, who described the devastating impact her mother’s working conditions have on her family.”

While many on the protests will have been members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), some were sceptical about their union.

Elizabeth, who works at the Imperial NHS trust, in west London, is one of them. “I think midwives need more recognition,” she said. “Our organising body, the RCM, is so quiet. I get a magazine every so often but I don’t feel represented.”

“The government can’t ignore this protest. We need better funding, better training so we can keep doing our jobs.”

“The crisis in the NHS now stretches to every department and every ward.

Years of spending cuts and low pay have combined with the pandemic to bring the health service to the brink of disaster.

Bringing together the midwives’ movement with others also fighting health cuts, and the workers pushing for industrial action to win better NHS pay, is the best way to hit back at the government that got us into this mess.

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