MORE than 100 people marched to the centre of Winchester in support of midwives.

At 2pm today (Sunday November 21) a mass gathering of retired midwives, student nurses, parents and Doulas met in the street outside the Royal Hampshire County Hospital to raise awareness of the crisis on maternity wards.

The march organised by retired midwife from the RHCH, Jane Weil, saw protestors marching from the hospital to the Buttercross for speeches.

It was just one of more than 35 marches to take place across the UK today.

Protestors are calling for funding from the government to increase staffing in maternity units as midwives say they aren't being supported.

The March with Midwives Manifesto states there is a ‘toxic bullying’ management system and that pressure from the ‘top’ is leaving midwives scared to whistleblow for fear of legal action or disciplinary procedures.

The chronicle was advised by a spokesperson for the Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust (HHFT) that no NHS staff were permitted to talk with the media due to staff policie.

An official statement from HHFT said: "Providing a safe and supportive environment for all of our staff is a top priority for the trust. We greatly value the incredible efforts of all our teams, including our amazing midwifery colleagues, each and every day.

"As a trust we have put a real focus on retention and recruitment of midwives in a challenging environment where demand for midwives exceeds the availability. We provide support for newly qualified midwives through our preceptorship scheme and as their careers develop we provide opportunities to increase their clinical skills, or pick up roles in teaching, safety and quality improvement, or maternity management. Also, as people think about retirement we have a flexible retire and return offer.

"On recruitment, we have been successful at encouraging newly qualified midwives to take up roles at Hampshire Hospitals, as well as attracting experienced midwives from the UK and from overseas. Throughout the trust we have also made significant investments in our wellbeing offer to help support all of our staff, whilst we are always looking to see what more we can do, so our staff are able to offer the best possible care to all our patients.”

The trade union midwifery, the Royal College of Midwives local branch for Winchester advised staff if they received disciplinary action as a result of the marches, the union would not support them.

Jane Weil told the Chronicle the pandemic has just ‘exacerbated’ an issue that already existed. She said due to staff shortages in labour units, community midwives are taken from their posts to backfill vacancies. Many staff are resigning, have already resigned or are taking long term sickness, and many midwife students choose not to complete their training.

Jane said: “To give you an example, Winchester Maternity Unit is meant to run on nine or ten midwives and three community assistants but usually there is five or six midwives and only two community assistants.

“Covid has meant midwives are shielding, a bad dose of Covid went through the unit last year. Covid has just exacerbated an existing problem.”

Due to the staff shortages, many parents are being told ‘no’ when they come to decide on details of the birth in the planning phases of pregnancy. She continued: “Women choosing to have home births are being told no. Women who want to give birth at Winchester get sent to Basingstoke, you get told you need to be induced but parents are waiting four to five days for that to be done.”

Jane added: “I don’t want to scare mums, the labour care is still excellent but getting to the ward is difficult. A lot of women are feeling unheard. It’s safe but the ladies aren’t given the care and time they need.”

The staff shortage has seen an increase in parents hiring Doulas, who are privately hired, unregistered midwives who offer support and advice throughout pregnancy and after birth. Some women have been prepared to pay thousands of pounds for this type of service, but this isn’t an affordable alternative for everyone.

The Royal College of Midwives revealed figures in 2020 showing around 60 percent of midwives want to leave the profession and for every 30 newly qualified midwives, 29 have are leaving.

The Royal College of Midwives was asked for comments but has not replied however a Tweet made at 8am on Sunday morning stated the RCM ‘stood in solidarity’ with midwives.