Urgent talks to find short-term solutions to the pressure on staff at National Women’s Health services are being called for by the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation.

NZNO have joined the College of Midwives in expressing concern about patient and staff safety at Auckland District Health Board’s women’s health services.  The DHB said today that its chief executive had yesterday invited NZNO to meet for a full discussion of the issues.

Carol Beaumont, NZNO’s lead Auckland organiser told Health Central that Auckland services were not only hit by the national midwifery shortage but also workplace culture issues that had compounded recruitment and retention issues for the DHB’s maternity services.

This week College of Midwives spokesperson Alison Eddy said midwives at Auckland DHB were feeling ‘”increasingly stressed, upset and frustrated that they couldn’t give the care they wanted to”.

In a response to the College’s concern, and now also NZNO, Auckland DHB said it had been affected by the national shortage and had been working with unions and the College since May last year to monitor progress of its midwifery action plan, with the most recent meeting being February 8. It also reassured the public that the DHB’s skilled staff were providing an “excellent standard of care for mothers, babies and their families”.

Beaumont said the ADHB’s comments led to a “very strong reaction” from members who said they want to ensure excellent care but currently could not do so. “It was almost like salt in the wound to be in that situation and hear ADHB say that the standards of care were excellent.”

“The fact that adequate care was being provided was due to the very hard work of the health professionals in quite trying circumstances,” said Beaumont. “And that is clearly not sustainable in the long-term.”

Beaumont said NZNO had been working with the DHB on long-term solutions to the midwifery shortage but says in the short-term there are currently issues “shift -by-shift” that need to be addressed immediately.

The DHB said since 2017 it had reduced its maternity service vacancies to 12.4 full time equivalents (FTE), have funded 17 extra full time midwifery positions (over $1 million additional budget starting in the 2017/18 year), and introduced initiatives to support its “hardworking midwifery team”.  The next joint union and College of Midwives meeting was scheduled for April 5.

Beaumont said NZNO has now gone to the DHB and called for an urgent meeting to sit down and talk through options to relieve the immediate pressure until the longer-term solutions – like increasing midwifery new graduate intakes – come on stream.

Improving the workplace culture was high on the agenda, said Beaumont, as members currently felt their views and concerns were not being listened to. But it also would be suggesting some short-term staffing changes could be considered, one example might be rostering some neonatal nurses onto the maternity wards.
“Because one of the issues is that babies aren’t counted in the workload in the units,” said Beaumont. She added everybody agreed that level of acuity at National Women’s Health was very high and “the mothers aren’t all healthy mothers with healthy deliveries.”

“We want to sit down and look at what we can do now to address the stress on the shift this weekend or next week.”

Meanwhile the College of Midwives which has expressed ongoing concerns about the growing midwifery crisis – particularly the impact of funding on the community midwifery service – is waiting on the Budget in May to see whether its proposed new funding model would be accepted or funded.

Karen Guilliland, Chief Executive of the New Zealand College of Midwives, is urging the new Government to reassure midwives that they will not be disappointed.
“The College is increasingly concerned that every day we wait, the sustainability of the midwifery profession continues to be negatively affected and this in turn has a significant impact on women’s access to maternity services. More and more women will be unable to find a midwife if this crisis is not urgently addressed.”
She said the new Government has an opportunity to resolve this and the College and its members could not highlight the urgency of this situation enough. “We need the Ministry and the Minister to act immediately,” she says

Julie Anne Genter, the Associate Minister of Health responsible for women’s health and the Minister for Women, recently announced that she is pregnant and her first child is due in August.

Speaking to Health Central, after the announcement of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy and prior to her own announcement, Genter said she hoped the Prime Minister’s pregnancy would help focus attention on issues facing all parents including maternity care.

She also said she was concerned about both the shortage of midwives and the working conditions for midwives – because that affected the parents’ experience.

NB This article was updated at 2pm on Feb 21 to include additional comment from ADHB

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