'Midwives are breaking': Vigil calls for urgent action to support Lister maternity services
- Credit: Danny Loo
Vigils have taken place both locally and across the country in support of midwives, to highlight issues with funding, staffing and working conditions.
A moving gathering held in Market place, Hitchin yesterday, saw families, lay-people, midwives, doulas and other medical professionals bearing emotive placards come together to show support for midwives based at Lister Hospital, who are struggling in the maternity crisis.
The event was organised by a local collective as part of the UK grassroots movement March with Midwives, which saw more than 60 vigils held up and down the country.
One midwife, who attended the event, said that others in the profession shared how they were crying in their cars before shifts began because they dreaded what lay ahead of them that day, and that others told of the rising levels of absence due to mental health concerns and extreme stress.
She added that alongside poetry and singing, there were speeches in support of midwives and their "increasingly difficult working conditions".
Bassingbourn-based doula Jane Wallington helped organise the Hitchin vigil, and said that she said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the turnout.
"It was such an incredibly emotional vigil, hearing midwives talk of the struggles they've faced - whether that's at the moment or in previous years. The stories that they shared really touched the hearts of everyone that was listening."
Grabbing the attention of passers by, Jane said, was what added to the gravity and emotion of the event.
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"Everybody is born. This is going to affect everybody, and future generations. I guess, in a way, we are doing this for future generations so that change can happen," she added.
"Birth is so significant in the circle of life. It impacts you as a person, as well. If we can start right at the beginning, right where birth starts, and make it as positive as possible for the baby and their family, then that will pave the way for a really positive future.
"It's got such a big knock-on effect."
And that's the very reason many are questioning how such essential, skilled and life-altering care can be given, when the vast majority feel like they're not being cared for in the first place.
"The call to action we want people to make is to sign the petition and for the government then to take action and make change.
"We need, essentially, more funding, but also funding going into the right areas: into the maternity care system, because too many midwives are leaving for many different reasons, but specifically and ultimately staff shortages."
The Royal College of Midwives estimates that the UK is short of around 2,500 midwives, with 57 per cent considering leaving their NHS midwife positions in the next year.
More than 100,000 people have shown their support for the cause, and are putting pressure on the government to end the crisis with quick action, support and investment before the damage is irreversible.
Speaking of the increasing plight of midwives in recent years, Jane added: "A fundamental change in the system needs to happen, because midwives are breaking, families are breaking, because of it.
"They need that support, which is so vital, particularly for the start of a new journey for a new-born and a family."
Jane, who has been a doula for 10 years, took on volunteer shifts at the maternity wards at Lister Hospital at the start of her career. She told of how she, along with many employed midwives, would cry in break rooms and their cars, and of the guilt she felt when there were no volunteers to relieve her when it was time to go home.
"Even then, the strain was significant," she said.
"There just wasn't the resource to help with basic things," she added, describing how manically midwives would be running around - so much so that they often wouldn't have time for a single toilet break in a 12-hour shift.
"It's a shame that it's come down to something like COVID to really amplify this. It has become so much more difficult, we can't ignore that, but it's such a huge shame and this should've happened a lot sooner. But I just hope that it can help to make a difference.
A spokesperson for East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs Lister Hospital, said: “Our midwives are doing a brilliant job in very challenging times, and we continue to actively support them.”