Midwives’ frustration boils over

Notes from midwives and their supporters, voicing concern about underfunding of the sector,...
Notes from midwives and their supporters, voicing concern about underfunding of the sector, plaster the front of Health Minister David Clark’s North Dunedin office. The notes appeared on Thursday and were taken down later the same day. Photo: Supplied
Midwives have targeted Health Minister David Clark’s Dunedin office as a campaign to address a funding crisis in the sector heats up.

Dozens of emotional notes, testifying to the impacts of underfunding of New Zealand’s midwifery service, were plastered on the windows of Mr Clark’s office in North Dunedin on Thursday.

The protest followed the launch of the campaign on Tuesday, alongside a "Dear David, Aotearoa needs Midwives" Facebook page which has already attracted hundreds of notes from midwives and their supporters.

Campaign organiser Anna Ramsay, of Hamilton, said the campaign sought to highlight the perilous state of midwifery across the country and force the new Government to fully fund the service in its next Budget.

Midwives were at breaking point and leaving in droves, as long hours and low pay threaten to destroy New Zealand’s "world-leading" service, she said.

Messages had been flooding in to the campaign’s Facebook page at a rate of one every minute yesterday, describing the frustrations and dangers of overwhelming workloads and poor pay.

One midwife described a day when she saw 15 antenatal clients at clinics, four postnatal clients at their homes, fielded 16 phone calls and 22 texts from clients, and attended two labours lasting between four and eight hours each.

"It is only Tuesday and I’ve already worked more than 24 hours," she wrote.

Another described a week in which she attended five labours, two of them requiring three-hour round trips to the nearest hospital.

"I was burnt out. I feel I can no longer work as an LMC (lead maternity carer). I love the work, but I love my family more and need to be here for them."

Another recent graduate midwife had worked for a month "without time off, looking after 36 women".

"Due to poor payment structuring, I have not received a single payment during this time."

Ms Ramsay told the Otago Daily Times the messages reflected the "desperation" in the sector.

"Midwives are absolutely burning out at a rate of knots.

"We have no control over what we get paid, except by increasing or decreasing the number of clients we take on. The problem with that is that’s why midwives are being driven out of the profession.

"You can’t find a work-life balance and earn enough money to do this job the way we love doing this job, and we truly, truly love doing this job."

The New Zealand College of Midwives had calculated existing pay, set by the Ministry of Health, represented an average hourly rate of $7.23 in rural areas, or $12.40 in larger centres.

As a result, midwives were opting to change professions or seek better-paying roles in Australia, she said.

Up to 40 midwives had quit in the Waikato alone in the past six months, she said.

The campaign also came just weeks after the ODT reported Wanaka was also facing a midwifery crisis, as one of its two remaining midwives, Morgan Weathington, prepared to step down in April.

She told the ODT poor pay and 100-plus-hour working weeks were to blame, having left her at the point "where you can’t actually pay the bills by doing the job".

The College of Midwives initiated court action three years ago, under the National-led government, and last year reached an agreement with the Ministry of Health to redesign the funding model. Work on the new model began last May, but details remained under wraps ahead of the unveiling of the new Government’s first Budget in May.

Mr Clark, in a statement yesterday, acknowledged the "pressure" many midwives were under, but blamed it on "a global midwife shortage and that creates workforce challenges for New Zealand".

"It is important to note that workforce issues and shortages do not develop overnight and take time to fix.

"At my request the Ministry of Health are looking at what can be done to address the situation in both the short and longer term."

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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