Women and babies' 'lives being put at risk' on maternity wards, whistleblower tells ITV News

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports on the pressure maternity services are under

I meet Anne (not her real name), a midwife, as she’s preparing for a night shift during which her maternity unit will, once again, be under-staffed.

Before she starts work she worries that lives will be put at risk. When she comes home she’s often reduced to tears.

"I cry a lot," she tells me. "Tears of frustration and sheer exhaustion.

"It's stressful. It's exhausting. It's no exaggeration to say that midwives are on their knees at the moment with exhaustion through short staffing, through the pressures of the job.

"And we are heartbroken that we’re not being able to give the level of care that we so desperately want to give." 

'Stressful, exhausting, midwives are on their knees'

The Royal College of Midwives has warned of an "exodus" of midwives, with an estimated shortage of 2,500 across the UK. In a recent survey 57% of their members said they would leave the NHS in the next year.

Anne tells me she came into the profession because she wanted to "empower and support" women, but now she feels like she’s letting them down. 

She says she believes babies lives are being put at risk because of the pressures midwives are under "things are being missed within their care, within women's antenatal care, we can't act as quickly as we need to sometimes."

She describes regular delays assessing women who come in with concerns.

Are women being seen within the proper timeframes?

"The ideal is that you would see a woman within 15 minutes to do a basic set of checks on her, to listen to the baby's heartbeat. It's not always possible, even with the best will in the world," she says.

"She could have come in with bleeding. She could come in with concerns over her baby's movements and it could be an hour or more before we get to her. And by the time you come to listen to the baby's heartbeat, your heart is just in your mouth.

"And the relief when you hear that heartbeat is just overwhelming. And it comes along with that sense of what if, what if I hadn't got there in time or what if that heartbeat wasn't there?" 

When I express my shock, she simply replies: "It's become the norm."

In Peterborough, I meet Amy McClay with her nine-month-old son Kolby. She's giving him his daily medication for undiagnosed breathing problems.

Rebecca Barry meets Amy and baby Kolby. Credit: ITV News

She shows me photos of Kolby just after he was born, being treated for sepsis in the neonatal intensive care unit at Peterborough City Hospital. 

When Amy's waters broke at 35 weeks, she wasn't properly risk assessed. The experience has left her traumatised and needing therapy. 

"I felt neglected, it just felt like they (midwives) were being torn form pillar to post and they couldn't keep up," she says.

'I was... terrified, watching his heart rate go up'

"The whole of my labour I was intensely watching the monitor and was terrified, watching his heart rate go up," says Amy.

"I know there are lots of fantastic midwives and staff working for the NHS that are doing their best but the system is fundamentally broken.

"I don't want to be criticising the wrong people, but that's something we've got to live with."

Peterborough City Hospital have apologised for the poor standard of care Amy received, telling ITV News that they're "not alone in experiencing staffing shortages", pointing out there's recently been recruitment drive within the maternity department, with new midwives starting.  

If you are a parent or midwife and would like to share your story, email us in confidence at: louisa.felton@itn.co.uk

In response to Amy's story, Jo Bennis, Chief Nurse at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Peterborough City Hospital said: "On behalf of the Trust I would like to apologise to Mrs McClay following her poor standard of care with us earlier this year.

"Our hospitals are not alone in experiencing staffing shortages. However, there has recently been an ongoing recruitment drive within our maternity department, which has seen a number of midwives already starting with us.

"We always strive to give the best possible care to our patients, and we’re saddened to hear that this experience has left Mrs McClay losing faith in the Trust. We always take feedback on board and have incorporated this into improving learning and practice as an organisation." 

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, says the government need to fund maternity services - adding "it has to happen"

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are committed to patient safety, eradicating avoidable harms and making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth.

"Midwives do an incredibly important job and we know how challenging it has been for those working during the pandemic. There are more midwives working in the NHS now than at any other time in its history and we are aiming to hire 1,200 more with a £95 million recruitment drive.

"The mental health and wellbeing of staff remains a key priority and the NHS continues to offer a broad range of support including through dedicated helplines and mental health and wellbeing hubs."