A midwife on the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital in northeast London during the pay strike on 13 October told Workers about her anger at an advert for private care being displayed in her maternity unit outpatients department.
The poster for UK Birth Centres offers women a special package including continuity of midwife care throughout pregnancy, guaranteed breastfeeding support, and care from a highly skilled midwife during the birth. The striking midwife pointed out that these should not be “special” – they are exactly what every midwife should be, and wants to be, providing to every woman.
That this often cannot happen is due to staff shortages, massive workload and increasingly high-stress working conditions. These cause intense professional frustration, and lead to sickness (which piles the pressure even more on to those left on shift) and which even cause some midwives to leave the profession in despair. The widespread use of “bank” staff and outside agencies to try to plug the gaps in the service is hugely expensive and utterly wasteful.
The fact that this private service is advertised in an NHS maternity unit, and is provided “In partnership with Barts Health NHS Trust” – using NHS facilities – is even more galling.
In spite of torrential rain, the striking midwives at Whipps Cross were in good spirit on the occasion of their first-ever strike. Although the contemptible pay situation was the trigger, they felt their action was a professional protest about the state of the whole service they work in.
• See companion article, Midwives act on pay, staffing