I was watching one of those ‘life in the Victorian era' programmes this week and the presenter was marvelling over how miners would work ‘12 hour shifts, away from the light, with only a half hour break for a cup of tea’.
It made me smile because many midwives consider a 12-14 hour shift WITHOUT without a tea break relatively normal. And at least the miners didn't have to pay for their parking.
Midwives will 'only' do three or four 12 hours shifts a week so the parallel I'm drawing to mining during the industrial revolution is a bit facetious, but still, midwives are one of the hardest working groups I know of. The personal and legal responsibility they carry is almost equal to parenthood.
When the NHS first started, students were paid because they were recognised as working members of the team. Now we’re at the point where student nurses, midwives and other professionals will have to pay to get themselves into the position of working. There will be loans, childcare support and hardship funds and midwifery should still be very achievable, as you can see from this post and further information.
But to me, the concept of having to pay to work is outrageous because it shows a lack of value for the things that matter most in life.
It's also a risky plan because it's so unprecedented. No-one knows what will happen to the numbers of students applying to become midwives.
I'm convinced there will always be committed and talented midwives in training. I spend a lot of my time chatting to them. I’m worried, though, about the small number of professionals who will carry the burden if the shortage of midwives gets any worse. Midwifery has an ageing workforce and if more bright and talented young professionals are not attracted into the profession we’ll end up with a crisis.
Midwifery will never be an easy career and it tends to attract good people who want to help. If we don’t treat them well, then we aren’t valuing the care of new mothers and babies.
Why are politicians proposing this?
The bursaries are being cut and tuition fees introduced because of the economic conditions we're living through. Bankers debt from the financial crisis has got passed to UK debt in general. Some of this will now be passed to our future nurses, midwives and other professionals in the form of student loans.
Future midwives and nurses are an easy group to take money away from.
They have a lot on their minds in terms of getting grades, writing personal statements, attending interviews and working hard towards their goals. They don't usually belong to a union. And they're not professionals in training yet so they lack the structure they need to challenge governmental decisions.
I don't think politicians are evil for taking advantage of this (I could never be Russell Brand, too much styling involved for me), I just think they're people doing a nearly impossible job and having to find cuts.
I do, however, think they're misguided in this case.
We have a bit of time left and stranger things have happened than getting this decision reversed!
I wanted to share the letter I've sent to my MP here and if you agree with it, please feel free to adapt it and send it to your own MP.
My Letter To My MP
‘I‘m writing as the founder of an online community of aspiring, student and qualified midwives. We have nearly 9,000 members. I trained as a midwife in the UK and have practised both here and in New Zealand.
We are disheartened and demoralised by the government once again reiterating bursaries will be cut for student midwives and course fees will be introduced.
We have followed the intricacies of the arguments in Westminster and elsewhere and believe the government is making a huge mistake in terms of the maternity service women will receive in England.
The arguments run that more midwives will be trained if this money is reabsorbed by Universities and the NHS. However at no point has there been any explanation about how more student midwives will receive adequate training and experience if numbers of students are increased. There are already shortages in ‘sign off’ mentors and clinical placements are full to capacity.
We believe in England there will be in fact a drop in the number of student midwives applying to train, which combined with an ageing work force (https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/news/midwifery-faces-time-bomb-says-report) and 50% of NHS midwives experiencing work-related stress (https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/news/stress-affects-almost-50-of-englands-midwives) means you will end up with far fewer midwives than you need.
Scotland will be retaining the old system of support based on valuing their healthcare professionals and care.
I beg you to consider the lives that will be put at risk if this plan goes ahead.
I also invite you to do a Q and A session to be organised at your convenience so we can be reassured about the plans if you have reasons to proceed which we have not considered. This would be on Facebook and would be extremely easy to organise remotely.
I look forward to hearing from you,
When you look at the world right now it can seem like everything is getting worse, financial cuts, inequality and violence are insurmountable and being a bit depressed is the only reasonable response.
I don't believe this at all.
Spend some time around passionate students and midwives just for a few minutes and you'll realise humans are naturally altruistic. They want to do something in life that has meaning and they find that meaning in supporting new Mums.
Let's look after this profession in the best possible way.