WATCH: Joe Coshan's report from Maidstone
Midwives in the South say maternity services are in crisis and are calling for urgent action.
Vigils have taken place across the south and southeast, including at Maidstone and Winchester.
Demonstrators have called for the “crisis” in maternity care to be addressed as a “national emergency”.
March with Midwives, which describes itself as a grassroots movement, said it is urging the Government to act now to tackle staffing shortages and safety in maternity units.
The group said it has four demands for politicians: to listen to all staff and service users and their advocates; fund emergency retention of staff; enable all qualified midwives who are willing to work and support students to enter training and finish their courses; reduce demands on staff.
Jane Weil, retired midwife in Winchester
Royal College of Midwives (RCM) executive director for external relations, Jon Skewes, backed the vigils, referencing a survey they did which suggested more than half of midwives are looking to leave their jobs.
He said: “For years, maternity services have been operating with too few staff and inadequate resources.
“NHS Trusts and Boards have relied on the goodwill of staff, and their genuine love of what they do, to maintain services – but staff are reaching the end of their tether.
“Staff are frankly exhausted, many feel like they have nothing left to give – and services are suffering as a result. We’re grateful to March with Midwives for highlighting the work we have been doing to get politicians and policy makers to pay attention to this untenable situation.”
Earlier this month, data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) showed that the number of nurses and midwives leaving the professions has risen.
Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, warned more departures could follow without further efforts to tackle the pressures on both occupations brought on by the pandemic.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government is committed to patient safety, eradicating avoidable harms and making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth.