Experts attack government over midwife crisis and maternity rights

Save Lewisham maternity ward

Maternity experts have said the Tories are playing ‘barefaced politics’ with maternity wards, and failing to address a severe midwife shortage. At a Fabian event titled ‘Giving birth in austerity Britain’, panelists from the Royal College of Midwives and the NCT said new mothers aren’t getting the support they deserve because of Coalition health and employment policies.

At the event, which was attended by an audience including new parents and their very young baby, John Skewes from the Royal College of Midwives said:

“There is a shortage of 5,000 midwives in England alone. We are always chasing demand.”

He told the audience that “the birth rate has soared by 22% since 2000”, but the government has not kept up with this increase by training enough midwives.  John Skewes, said the maternity picture was very different under Labour:

“Andy Burnham took seriously the need to train more midwives. In the last government, we saw a huge range of improvements for maternity care. There was Sure Start, improved maternity rights at work and increased investment in getting more midwives – though it wasn’t enough. That progress is now being destroyed.”

Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed also criticised the Coalition government for letting women down:

“In the last month alone, another two independent reports have warned Ministers of the need to ensure new mums receive continuity of care. But they are still taking no action. Hospitals can only do this with adequate numbers of midwives. David Cameron promised thousands more midwives, but he’s failing to deliver them. Mums are being let down – it’s no wonder he’s losing their trust. This is yet more proof that you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”

Elizabeth Duff from the NCT said the midwife shortage meant women weren’t getting the births they deserved:

“A recent study found 89% of new mothers hadn’t met the midwives who cared for them before the birth. 15% said they were left unattended when they called for a midwife, and 30% didn’t have one-to-one care during the birth.”

The panel also discussed the Coalition’s policy on maternity ward closures. One panelist said the Coalition played ‘party politics’ with women’s birth experiences:

“There’s the nonsense of Lewisham. They have good maternity services in Lewisham so what’s the Secretary of State’s response? Close down the maternity centre next door. It is bare-faced politics.”

Elizabeth Duff from the NCT said that women in labour often drove to one ward, only to find it had been shut down due to local health spending decisions:

“It is inappropriate and disturbing that women are worried about becoming a parent on the hard shoulder of a motorway.”

The panel said it was not just Coalition health policies which made pregnant women’s lives harder, but their employment policies too. Rosalind Bragg from Maternity Action said:

“The austerity policies of the government are adversely affecting the rights of mothers and babies. In 2005, 30,000 women (8% all pregnant women) faced unlawful pregnancy discrimination. The figure is now at 50,000 new mothers each year who are sacked or bullied out of their jobs – it has almost doubled under this government.

Of the women who lost jobs due to pregnancy, only 8% complained and only 3% took their pregnancy discrimination claim to tribunal.

The government has now made sure it now costs £1200 in fees to take a discrimination claim to employment tribunal. They have also removed the questionnaire for women to assess the chances of a successful claim. We need government ministers to assert UK maternity rights. The government is sending the message to employers that maternity rights at work are not that important.

Rosalind welcomed Yvette Cooper’s announcement that Labour would make it easier for pregnant women to tackle maternity discrimination at work, but said she wanted to see even more action on this front from Labour.

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