The NHS is undergoing a revolution in how it puts patients at the centre of care. But it's going to take more than a change in ethos to make this a reality for the 700,000 women every year who need maternity care from the NHS. One of these women puts the problem succinctly: ''I just felt as if we were on a conveyor belt, because the unit is so busy, it was so impersonal at a very emotional and vulnerable time.'
Today the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the NCT, the UK's largest parenting charity, is publishing research into the impact of staffing shortages in maternity care on the experiences of women. We surveyed 5,500 women, and made FOI requests to 147 NHS trusts and boards in England and Wales. Women here have access to some of the best maternity care in the world, and many women told their stories of the outstanding professionalism and dedication of the midwives and other staff members caring for them.
But maternity care is a journey, and all too often, there are points along the way where women are let down, left uninformed, and disempowered, and the lack of midwives lies behind this. Government directives, clinical guidance and decades of policy based around 'choice' is only worth the paper it's printed on. It's the midwifery professionals who make quality care happen. That's why the NFWI is campaigning for more midwives.
Our report outlines the state of the midwifery workforce, and the impact of this on choice, the relationship between midwives and women, and postnatal care. We found 60% of women wanted more support during the postnatal period; 88% women did not previously know their midwife before they gave birth; and 13% of women were not cared for one-to-one in labour. FOI requests found 80% of NHS trusts and boards were not employing the recommended number of midwives. 80% of the closures or suspensions of services - those episodes we read about every week in the local papers - are down to too few staff or a lack of beds.
This isn't good enough. Wales' midwifery workforce has declined the last three years running. England is short of 5,000 midwives. The latest NHS staff survey shows a fifth of midwives disagree with the statement 'I am satisfied with the quality of care I give to service users.' It's time for the health leaders of the NHS to acknowledge the needs of the 2,000 women every day who use maternity services. Our research follows many previous surveys, guidance, policy and clinical research. Now it's time to make it happen with more midwives.