18 Jun 2018

Holiday season midwife shortage worsens

From Checkpoint, 6:20 pm on 18 June 2018

Hutt Valley women due to give birth over the summer are struggling to find a midwife and an increasing number are being referred to Hutt hospital.

A pregnant woman and her midwife. The woman has medical equipment strapped to her stomach.

A pregnant woman and her midwife Photo: 123RF

First-time mother Kristi, due to give birth on 7 January, said she spent three weeks calling all 42 midwives on the Hutt Maternity list, only to be told no one was available.

"I found out on May 4 I was expecting, I searched until last Wednesday when I finally gave up and called Hutt Hospital maternity and now I just get whoever is available at the time," she said.

She said it was stressful.

"Last night I had horrible uterine pain. So severe it led me to vomit despite being on the strongest anti-nausea available. Scary stuff when miscarriage is very real," Kristi said.

"But because I don't have a midwife, I have to ring the hospital and someone will give me a call back. I'm in pain. I don't know what's normal or not ... and I'm waiting for someone to call me back."

Rikki Merichen-Steel, another first-time mother, was in the same boat.

"I was like there's so many midwives on this list, it's going to be easy and then no it's not, it's not that easy. I was near tears at one point just because it felt kind of hopeless, I had this image of not being able to find a midwife at all and that was kind of scary," she said.

Mrs Merichen-Steel and Kristi were both referred to Hutt Valley hospital and have been allocated a community midwife, who - depending on rostering - may or may not be there for the birth.

A Hutt Valley midwife, who asked not to be named, said both her colleagues had decided to reduce their workload over the summer.

"One of my colleagues is choosing to reduce the number she's working over December, just to reduce the chances of actually spending stat holidays in the delivery suit, the other one is choosing not to book any December women."

She said she would be working over that time, and expected it to be busy.

"I have seven women for each month, which is full and is above the college's recommendations of four to six women, so that's going to be quite hectic.

"I received an email for a January woman last night, the husband followed up with a phone call this morning, and I've had to redirect them to the maternity services at Hutt Hospital," she said.

Hutt Valley District Health Board chief executive Dale Oliff said the shortage would be particularly challenging this year.

"[We] are planning for a shortage of around 12 lead maternity carers which is up from around nine last year. If this is the case, we would expect around 45 women to be affected," Mr Oliff said.

"This is why we are now recruiting for additional community midwives employed by the DHB to care for these women."

College of Midwives deputy chief executive Alison Eddy said the shortage around Christmas time was not new, but had got worse in recent years due to pay issues.

She said it was a nation-wide issue, and while the numbers were difficult to quantify a "significant" number of women would be affected.

"As a group practice [midwives] would often arrange their schedule so there was always sufficient cover for midwifery care over that period, but as the issues around the pay have become more long standing, what we're seeing is midwives choosing to prioritise themselves and their families over that time, so that's creating the shortage," Ms Eddy said.

Midwives were added to the Immigration's immediate skills shortage list in February, in an attempt to address the issue.

Ministry data showed that 25 visa applications, where the persons occupation was stated as midwife, have been approved since July last year.