Banbury campaigners and midwives from the Horton maternity unit gather for demonstration - 'If you were born - stand up for midwives'

Banbury campaigners and midwives past and present joined a vigil and demonstration in Oxford yesterday (Sunday) calling for more resources for maternity care.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 11:52 am
Updated Monday, 22nd November 2021, 11:54 am
Midwives from all over Oxfordshire gathered for the demonstration in Oxford on Sunday

The event took place in Bonn Square where shoppers stopped to hear midwives describe the dire state of their profession and heard shocking stories about the stress midwives are working under.

The Midwives' Vigil was one of many being held in towns and cities all over the country as part of a nationwide effort to urge politicians to address the critical situation affecting maternity hospitals and home births.

The events were organised by March With Midwives UK group in a bid to show that maternity services face a dangerous shortage of midwives because of individuals leaving the profession through burnout on a constant basis.

Midwives gathered with families and many supporters in Bonn Square, Oxford for Sunday's demonstation

Past and present midwives from the Horton midwife-led unit - a full obstetric hospital with special care baby unit until it was moved to Oxford in 2016 - formed part of the 200-strong demonstration. And a delegation of members from Keep the Horton General was there in support.

One midwife said: "If you were born, then please stand up for midwives. We are suffering burnout. There are not enough midwives and we are not able to take breaks in our 12-hour shifts. Many midwives are leaving the profession. The statistics show that for every 30 who join the profession, 29 are leaving."

A number of midwives spoke to the crowd or read poems which reduced many to tears. A constant theme was the length of shifts, the prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression among midwives, the negative effects on family life and frustration at being unable to give personal support and after-care to mothers giving birth because of the pressure of numbers in labour in the busy main unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

They said staffing was sometimes at 40 per cent of the optimum; midwives were exhausted and felt they were failing to give women the birth experience they deserved.

Keith Strangwood, chairman of Keep the Horton General campaign group, speaks to the demonstration in support of midwives

One midwife's mother took the microphone and wept as she described her daughter often returns home after a 12-hour shift with a headache because of dehydration, having had to go all day without a drink.

"This is something the community completely values and understands the need for - but somehow politicians just don't hear it. We all want midwives to be properly paid. We want them to be properly served as employees able to go to the loo, to be able to have a drink and able to get some lunch."

One of those who spoke at the demonstration was Keith Strangwood, chairman of Keep the Horton General which campaigned exhaustively to save the full maternity service in Banbury.

After the vigil he said: "Current midwifes are describing twelve hour shifts and not even being given time to stop for a cup of tea or drink. They are at their wits' end.

Some of many midwives and their friends and families at Sunday's demonstration

"A recent poll of UK midwifes showed that around 50 per cent of midwifes are considering leaving their jobs due to under-staffing, an unacceptable workload and physical and mental stress. We are in a bad place.

"Being a midwife isn't just a job, it's a vocation. You have to be a special person to take on such a career. Our Horton Maternity Hospital was fine until October 16, 2016, when the powers that be took away a fine team of midwifes, who then dispersed rather than move to the JR.

"The shortage of staff was known to be coming but it was decided the silver bullet was to close smaller units, allocating the staff to large centres and centralising services. This has happened UK wide and has failed. Banbury is fully behind the midwifes, we support them wholeheartedly.

"We believe a satellite obstetric service as we had, should be reinstated at the Horton in Banbury. Covid put the brakes on our efforts but it is now time to press on and win the day.

Placards left after Sunday's demonstration

"The Horton maternity hospital and its special care baby unit was a great back up for the JR which has been without special care cots for the majority of November. Because Banbury was a smaller unit with a very friendly and cooperative staff, the midwives were perfectly happy and not stressed out. Few if any wanted to travel to Oxford for arduous 12-hour shifts and a number left for other positions or left midwifery completely.

"I asked those at the demonstration to email their MPs to ask them to help us achieve this reinstatement."

One long-standing midwife described a typical day to the Banbury Guardian: "I can be in clinic seeing women every 20 minutes until 5pm dealing with safeguarding, depression, drugs, happiness, sadness, every emotion possible. Then I will go home and I'm on call that night and so I quickly have some supper and then I get called out to any area in Oxfordshire. I can get called into the hospital, a home birth or any of five birth centres.

"I go to bed and I get called out to 11pm and I have to go, I have to drive 40 minutes to a labourer. And I have a beautiful birth with a gorgeous family and my heart is full of joy.

"And then it's 6am and I realise I haven't had a drink since I went to bed at nine o'clock. I've got to drive back to my house. I'm exhausted. It's rush hour. And then I get a call from my colleagues in the office asking me if I can possibly come into work. I've worked for 24 hours I've been up for 26 and I can't give any more. But I'm expected to go into work that afternoon.

"We're broken; we're covering the hospital, we're covering each other and everybody is exhausted because there are not enough staff.

"The management don't hear us and they keep saying we've got enough midwives, that the ratio to midwives to patients is absolutely fine, but it's not. We're struggling. Sometimes we're in 40 per cent staffing. Midwife means 'with a woman' and that's what we want to be and we're failing and we're tired. We're exhausted. Many can't really carry on much longer in the job they love."

The midwife said management and politicians should listen and think about the mental health of midwives.

Another midwife said: "Management shouldn't worry about the fact that we haven't got our hair tied back properly or we're not wearing the right shoes. They are just box ticking petty managers who just see us as numbers. We need to be treated as individuals who love our jobs. We ought to be nurtured a little bit more.

"Of my own cohort of students, I am the only one left still working. We're losing people to health visiting and other avenues or they are just leaving the NHS. Some are going into retail work where their hours are manageable and their work conditions are good, where they get breaks and are valued.

"Most of us are family people but we have to tell our children 'I'm not there for Christmas. I'm working late. You've got to be quiet; I'm on a night shift'. It affects us hugely. And the guilt does as well."

She said students, who were supposed to be 'extras' are being used 'on the shop floor'.

"This causes burnout and depression. We're trying to nurture them as much as much as we can. But management have got to reach out and realise how how stressed we all are. The mothers are our priority. This is why we're burnt out. Their care is not compromised, our care is compromised.

"The public need to know how we're struggling. The government ought to put more money into maternity services."