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I was an NHS midwife for 13 years before it finally broke me. This is what it’s really like on the healthcare frontline

On Wednesday 30 March 2022, the Ockenden Maternity Review was published, detailing how systemic failures in Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) had led to unimaginable tragedies, including avoidable deaths of 201 babies. 

On Sunday 10 April, The Times reported that almost half of the maternity services in England are unsafe, identifying that out of 193 NHS maternity services in England, 80 are rated as “inadequate” or “requires improvement” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), meaning they’re failing to meet the most basic standards of safety for mothers and babies. 

And now, in a report the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) released on Wednesday 18 May, it’s been revealed that more than 27,000 nurses and midwives quit the NHS last year, with many blaming job pressures, the Covid pandemic and poor patient care for their decision.

The new figures also show that the NHS is becoming more reliant on midwives trained overseas due to lower numbers of UK citizens choosing to qualify, and the mass exodus has sparked further concerns that frontline workers are under too much strain.

Here, one woman talks to GLAMOUR about her decision to leave the NHS, after 13 years of being a midwife. 

Driving into work for a shift on the maternity wards filled Hannah, a midwife of 13 years, with dread so deep it made her sick with fear of what the next 12 hours had in store. 

“They have become genuinely terrifying places to work. It’s like entering a war zone,” says the 34-year-old, whose passion for midwifery – her mum and gran were midwives too – started as a schoolgirl but has since been shattered by the unfolding crisis in the NHS. 

“By the time your shift starts, you’ve already received three messages saying they’re short-staffed and need urgent cover for the wards tonight. You dodge scary possibilities and consequences constantly, fearing that, any moment, something could happen which will make you lose your job – or worse, lose a mother or a baby’s life.”

Last week, the horrifying news that Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust had presided over the avoidable deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers, whose lives could have been saved with better care, drove home the catastrophic reality of failings in NHS maternity units. The Ockenden review found that 131 stillbirths, 70 neonatal deaths and a further 94 cases of brain damage in children could have been preventable, across 20 years, as it reported the scale of the NHS’s biggest maternity scandal. It was a sobering indictment of midwives’ worst fears.

Hannah explains: “The worry of something going seriously wrong or a woman having a traumatic time is relentless. On the antenatal wards, you are lucky if there are two of you to look after 12 women being induced, bleeding, suffering from placental problems, high blood pressure or hyperemesis (severe sickness.) If one goes into labour, because there is no space for her in the delivery suite, you either have to ignore the 11 others, spend hours on the phone with colleagues in delivery or try and paint the fact she has now given birth somewhere she didn’t want to as a wonderful thing, when really a service, unfit for purpose, has let her down.

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