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Seven out of 10 midwives experience abuse from women and partners during pandemic, says RCM

Seven out of 10 midwives have experienced abuse from pregnant women, their partners and families due to changes to attendance rules during the pandemic, according to a survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). Changes have been introduced in most maternity services to reduce the risk to women, their babies and to staff of the COVID-19 infection coming into maternity units and hospitals. However, in some cases even the most basic compliance, like partners wearing a mask, has led to confrontation and abuse.

Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director for Professional Leadership at the Royal College of Midwives, said:

“Now more than ever, keeping everyone safe has to be a priority. That applies to pregnant women, their babies and, of course, the maternity staff taking care of them. We understand how upsetting it can be not to have your partner or support person with you for appointments, but there is no excuse for abusing midwives and their colleagues.

“Every midwife wants the women in their care to have the best possible birth experience – but they also want that experience to be safe. That’s partly about reducing pregnant women’s exposure to the virus. It’s also about reducing the risk to staff, particularly when we already know that many services are experiencing staff shortages because of COVID, with eight out of 10 midwives saying they do not have enough staff to operate a safe service .”

Midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) have reported a catalogue of abuse, very often from partners. A major concern is visitors refusing to wear masks when inside the maternity unit. Others have become abusive when, during labour, they are told they cannot leave the unit for a cigarette. In one instance, a midwife reported that a birth partner jumped over a security gate so he could leave the unit. Explaining to visitors that the size of rooms and the inability to social distance, is another significant trigger for abuse of maternity staff.

One midwife said:

“Women feel we are robbing them of the maternity care they want. They are angry and feel we do not understand. No matter how much we try to explain some women and families can be incredibly verbally abusive. This is soul destroying. We are trying our best, but not everyone sees that.”

There have been some positive outcomes of fewer visitors to maternity wards. Over two-thirds (68%) of RCM members said it improved rest and recuperation for women, with a similar number (62%) citing an improvement in bonding between mother and baby.

Birte Harlev-Lam added:

“Maternity services are open. They have remained open throughout the pandemic, providing good, safe care and support to the women in their care. Most midwives are working unpaid beyond their contracted hours because they want to maintain that care. They don’t deserve to be treated like this.”