We need an above-inflation pay rise, say midwives and maternity support workers
Jon Skewes, Director of Employment Relations at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), welcomes the announcement on NHS pay in the Budget after midwives and other NHS staff have suffered for years with prices rising faster than salaries, but calls for the rise to be above-inflation.
After this week’s Budget, midwives, maternity support workers (MSWs) and other NHS staff are still waiting to hear what will happen to their pay next year. This comes after years of seeing their pay fall in value. Indeed, the RCM’s research shows that the pay of an average midwife has dropped by over £6,600 since 2010, and with inflation increasing rapidly the value of pay is set to drop even further.
But there was some positive news from the Chancellor today. He confirmed that whatever the independent NHS pay review body recommends for the pay of NHS staff, he will fund it direct from the Treasury, with extra money for the NHS.
This has been a long struggle. In 2014 midwives were pushed into taking their first industrial action in the 134-year history of the RCM after the Secretary of State rejected the NHS pay review body’s recommendation of a modest 1 per cent pay rise.
We won this dispute and the recommended uplift was paid, but the pay cap that was the cause of this problem remained in place. Midwives taking industrial action for the first time in their history should have rung alarm bells; if they did ring, however, nobody in government was listening. The cap was only lifted this year, three years after our strike action.
But much damage has already been done, with the national midwifery workforce short by around 3,500. The NHS is delivered by people, so put simply if we don’t have midwives we don’t have maternity services.
Added to the pressure from pay, two recent decisions potentially make the whole situation worse. The pursuit of hard Brexit puts a big question mark over the future of the 1,400 NHS midwives who have come from elsewhere in the EU. If our future immigration policy is too tight and if the rhetoric of our national conversation about foreign nationals remains as hostile as it is, the future inward flow of EU midwives into the NHS may well fall to virtually nothing.
Added to this, the decision to impose full tuition fees on midwifery students and the abolition of the bursary to help them to finance their studies, could well deter people from wanting to study to become midwives and lead to more dropping out during their studies because of the financial pressure.
At the same time as the service is struggling to recruit staff we are seeing experienced midwives leaving after making the decision that the pressures of working in an overstretched service just isn’t worth the pay. In an RCM survey last year, four out of every five midwives who had left or were considering leaving said they would stay if they had a pay rise.
The Government needs to wake up to the fact that paying staff fairly is fundamental to delivering NHS services. We have said it many times before: investment in NHS staff is an investment in high quality, safe NHS care. So, the Chancellor’s announcement is welcome, but we need to see an actual above-inflation pay rise; the Secretary of State needs himself to recommend a pay rise to the pay review body.
For the past seven years, midwives, MSWs and other NHS staff have suffered year after year of pay cuts – with prices rising faster than their pay. At the same time they have been working harder and harder whilst doing more with less.
The working conditions in the NHS have been getting increasingly challenging, but every day midwives and MSWs go in to work to give the best care to women and their families. They tell us they feel undervalued, understaffed and underpaid. All they ask for in return is to be treated fairly in return for their hard work, in return for their dedication, in return for their experience, in return for their commitment, in return for their skills and knowledge and in return for their care. Midwives are telling the Government that fair pay is overdue.