“Recruiting midwives from overseas tells us the DHB just doesn’t get it.”
That from the chair of the Wellington Region of the College of Midwives, Siobhan Connor, following the news that Hutt Valley District Health Board is targeting midwives from overseas to help fill gaps in maternity units.
“Our stats tell us we have more midwives than ever before with practicing certificates in New Zealand,” she says. “However, this skilled and educated workforce is choosing not to practice for reasons that we have been asking to be addressed for more than a decade.”
In June, College Chief Executive Alison Eddy said, “Better staffing levels, improved working conditions and effective retention strategies for hospital employed midwives, a sustainable locum service, better co-ordination and support for community-based midwives across the country – these are some of the things that would help,” she says.
Siobhan Connor says a significant number of midwives are deciding to work part time, intermittently or not at all because the maternity workplace is increasingly unattractive, under-resourced and stressful for both midwives and mothers.
“We have been warning the Ministry and Government about this for years. Our maternity system is a world leading model, and like anything, works well when it is properly funded and supported. This is not about there being too few midwives – we’re here, we want to work but we deserve to be paid and supported appropriately to work in an environment that encourages the best outcomes for mothers and babies.”
A number of midwives are also heading to Australia for part of the year as they are paid better there in better conditions.
“It enables midwives to have a better work/life balance and not get burnt out, by subsidising their earnings with Australian dollars. If midwives in New Zealand were actually paid appropriately and were valued, there’d be no need to recruit overseas midwives, it’s that simple”, says Ms Connor.
Of important note, a Midwifery Accord with the Ministry of Health, MERAS – the midwifery union, DHBs and other stakeholders, is underway and is expected to identify and develop strategies to recruit, retain and re-employ midwives within DHBs. College CE Alison Eddy says this is a positive step and a good start.
“Retention is the key as we know there are midwives out there. We hope that the Accord will help to build a sustainable midwifery workforce and support the continued growth in the number of midwives employed in our hospitals. This will ensure our maternity service will strengthen once more, and the positive outcomes midwives deliver when the sector is valued and resourced properly, will continue for our women and babies.”
The Wellington region of the College of Midwives adds that, DHB funding for maternity needs to be clearly spent in maternity on the complications that can and do arise in tertiary and secondary hospital settings.
“We know that the money that is earmarked for maternity and should be spent on maternity, is getting diverted to other parts of the hospital service. Maternity and women’s health generally are always the areas that lose out first and it’s got to stop,” says Ms Connor.
Additionally she says primary birth units need to be funded and supported to reduce the number of women who head to the larger hospital’s (tertiary units) to receive their maternity care in understaffed medical settings.
“Well-women should be encouraged to use primary units or birth at home. The outcomes for well-women and babies are as good if not better there than in a hospital setting, and it frees up the specialist part of the service for those who really need it. This is where the DHB and Ministry’s efforts are best focused, not on recruiting midwives overseas when we already have them here.”