Trainee midwives’ key work during Covid-19

June 23, 2020

Collage by Angela Mascolo with original images from Pixabay

Yasmin (name changed) shares her experiences working in north London hospital during challenging times

As a young, trainee midwife in a hospital in north London, I’ve been one of many key workers since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for midwives, including shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), poorer mental health and higher demand of Intensive Care Units.

Alongside delivering babies, my work as a trainee midwife involves looking after vulnerable women and ensuring their safety, providing them with emotional, social, physical and mental support, and supporting them to look after their babies.

Since the pandemic began, midwives (and all hospital workers) have had to be extra careful about what we touch and make sure that we wash our hands regularly and rigorously. We also have to remember to wear PPE – which includes things like gloves, masks and eye protection – and test every patient for the virus.

I have to remain vigilant at all times, which often makes my work more stressful. Being cautious and following handwashing guidelines are the most important things I can do to reduce anxiety whilst working in a hospital setting.

Midwife Lawrence Ostlere writes in his article for The Independent, “one of the biggest parts of our job is building a relationship with the woman and her partner.”

Some patients have refused to test for the virus, which can negatively impact our relationship with them

Empowering mothers to understand the benefits of being tested for Covid-19 is very fulfilling. However, some patients have refused to test for the virus, which can negatively impact our relationship with them. If the result came back positive, they wouldn’t be able to see their babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

In such cases, we have to treat the patient as if they are Covid-positive and keep them in an isolated room. We therefore can’t provide patients with important caring advice, such as showing them how to breastfeed.

Tragically, one of the patients in our hospital passed away as she refused to test for Covid-19. Fortunately, her baby was delivered in the NICU.

One of the concerns that has been raised on social media and in the news recently is about the lack of PPE in NHS hospitals. In my experience, we do often need to be careful with PPE.

The numbers available has certainly dropped since the outbreak began, the budget for PPE has decreased and, on some days, deliveries for PPE don’t arrive on time.

Lots of midwives, including myself, are angered by this. We feel like we are not being protected sufficiently and that we are more vulnerable to catching the virus.

Maintaining physical health is especially important for protecting myself when I’m working in the ‘red zone’

Being able to keep up my routine whilst most of the country is in lockdown has definitely helped my mental health. I’m ensuring I look after my physical health as much as I can by taking vitamins and eating well.

Maintaining physical health is especially important for protecting myself when I’m working in the ‘red zone’, where the risk of catching coronavirus is higher and PPE needs to be worn at all times.

However, for some midwives, working in these dangerous times has taken a bigger toll on their mental health. Many of my colleagues have become more anxious to ensure they stay safe and don’t infect family members at home; one of my colleagues caught the virus by treating a patient who was Covid-19 positive.

A survey conducted by The Royal College of Midwives has shown that 57% of midwives, maternity support workers and student midwives feel that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

People have been clapping for NHS staff every Thursday at 8pm to show gratitude for our work. We do appreciate this, but it’s important to acknowledge the issues that NHS staff face behind-the-scenes. Alongside shortages in PPE and poorer mental health, the pay of NHS staff has stayed the same.

The only way for midwives to increase their wages is to move up a band. However, every band is still on minimum wage. Competition for more senior jobs is very high, making it difficult to progress.

Midwifery continues to be an extremely rewarding job as I know I’m making a difference for mothers and their babies

We only get paid extra on holidays, bank holidays and night shifts, which was already the case before Covid-19. Like many of my colleagues, I believe the wages of all NHS staff should increase in these trying circumstances, where we are at higher risk of catching and spreading the virus.

Although this pandemic has posed new challenges, midwifery continues to be an extremely rewarding job as I know I’m making a difference for mothers and their babies.

We can put pressure on the government to increase pay and provide sufficient PPE by signing petitions, such as this one by UNISON and this one on Change.org.

If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that people need to support the NHS all year round by listening to workers when we raise concerns.

Despite the challenges we have faced during this pandemic, compassion continues to be the key driving force behind our work and we need to be safe if we are to provide the best possible care to our patients.

If you’re interested in a career as a midwife, here are some great resources which provide more information and advice:

Editorial support from Angela Mascolo.

Yasmin is completing her final year as a trainee midwife and is hoping to start a Midwifery degree afterwards. She aspires to continue her work as a midwife after her degree. Yasmin loves cooking (especially for Angela), caring for others and making people laugh.

Exposure is a youth communications charity enabling young people to thrive creatively, for the good of others as well as themselves.

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