Midwifery sector in downward spiral

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New Zealand is hundreds of midwives short and there are concerns a new healthcare recruitment drive in New South Wales could make the staff shortage problem worse.

On Sunday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet announced a $4.5 billion healthcare package, set to bring 10,000 more staff into the state over the next four years.

Midwives’ Union co-leader Caroline Conway spoke to Radio New Zealand on 7 June and said some midwives here are already heading overseas, while others are burning out.

“Some are simply just walking away from the job because it’s so stressful because of the shortages. It’s a downward spiral – you’ve got vacancies and shortages which put pressure on your existing workforce and then midwives get to the point where they think ‘I can’t do this any more,'” she explained.

“If they leave, then it only applies even more stress to those who stay.”

She believed at the very least, the Government should match the pay offered in Australia and pay midwifery students while they study.

“If you want our health professionals to reflect the communities of New Zealand, we need to support local people to do those careers in a way that’s affordable for them,” she said.

Conway said healthcare degrees are intensive and often don’t allow students to work part-time while they study – creating a massive financial barrier for prospective staff.

“For many midwifery students, it’s a second career option so they’re not even eligible for the first year of free tertiary education. They’ve also just come out of full-time work but still need to support their families.”

The country cannot rely upon attracting international staff alone to fix chronic staff shortages, she said.

New Zealand College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said now’s the time for the Government to pull out all the stops to keep healthcare staff in the country.

Better pay in Australia and uncertainly around the transition to the Health New Zealand model may prompt people to cross the Tasman, she said.

“There simply hasn’t been enough attention on the midwifery workforce. It’s a critical, relatively small but very specialised workforce, that we really needed to be investing in and looking strategically at how we continue grow our own New Zealand-educated midwives, many years ago,” she explained.

The country is already hundreds of midwives short and Eddy said we can’t afford to lose any more.

The sector is playing catch up after years of neglect but she believed there are some short-term solutions which can be put in place to buffer staff shortages while long-term solutions are worked on.

“There’s a lot more that can be done around retention initiatives like issues with pay, voluntary bonding schemes and better support for student fees.”

Midwives have been in pay negotiations since the start of the year.

This story appeared on Radio New Zealand on 7 June 2022