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Midwives' union calls for action over crisis in midwifery workforce

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The midwives’ union, MERAS has spoken out about the crisis in the midwifery workforce and is calling on the government and district health boards to act on pay and conditions.

MERAS represents the majority of employed midwives in maternity units and hospitals throughout New Zealand and is affiliated with the New Zealand College of Midwives.

Earlier this week there was publicity about the difficulties being faced by midwives at Auckland Hospital but MERAS spokesperson Caroline Conroy says Auckland is not alone.

"As I visit and speak with midwives around the country I am repeatedly hearing stories from members who are stressed and overworked," says Caroline Conroy, the union’s spokesperson.

The current pay structure for employed midwives does not reflect the training and specialist nature of the midwifery role. An example of this is the on-call rates that many midwives are paid to assist in maintaining safe staffing levels. At $4 an hour the on-call rates are completely inadequate.

Working conditions for midwives have become extremely difficult, says Ms Conroy. There are three main reasons for this within different maternity units:

Ongoing midwifery vacancy rates and difficulties in retaining midwives

Budgeted midwifery levels that are inadequate for the current needs of women and babies

Reductions in the local self- employed midwifery workforce

"Maternity is different to other areas of a large hospital but unfortunately there is a lack of understanding about this at the senior executive level of most DHBs."

Ms Conroy says that MERAS has been working closely with individual maternity services over the last two years to address issues of recruitment and retention and whilst some managers are receptive to the ideas of their midwifery workforce others are not.

"Even in maternity units without midwifery vacancies the current budgeted staffing levels are often inadequate to meet the unpredictable workload seen in maternity..

"Midwives are working incredibly hard to ensure women and babies receive quality care., They often work extra shifts, extra hours at the end of shift and miss meal breaks to ensure safe care and to support colleagues. "

In the last 6 months several areas of the country have seen a reduction in the number of self-employed midwives, who work in the community as Lead Maternity Carers, with some retiring and others leaving these roles.

Where these self-employed midwives are not replaced the DHB becomes responsible for ensuring that local women are still able to receive maternity care but this requires additional employed midwifery staffing, says Ms Conroy.

MERAS is currently in pay negotiations with the DHBs and wants to achieve improved pay rates for midwives to encourage retention of midwives in New Zealand. The New Zealand of College of Midwives is in discussions with the Ministry of Health to achieve improved pay and conditions for self-employed midwives.

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