‘Make or break’ as Christchurch midwives march for better funding

‘Make or break’ as Christchurch midwives march for better funding

Midwives and their supporters marched in Christchurch as the industry fights for better pay.

Lucia Alonso has worked as a midwife in several countries, but says New Zealand’s poor pay, gruelling hours and staggering workload forced her out of the job.

Alonso, formerly a rural midwife, said the demands of the job were relentless as a mother could go into labour at any time. It was always a gamble how long she would be away from her family for and taking leave was nearly impossible. Her experience was common in the industry, which was rife with overworked staff stretched beyond capacity, she said.

Midwives marched and protested around the country on Thursday, including a 200-strong group who descended on Parliament in Wellington to ask Government to accept a proposed funding model for midwives.

Andrea Sarty, deputy chair of New Zealand College of Midwives Wellington, said when the current pay model was established, it assumed women had uncomplicated births. The New Zealand College of Midwives estimates the average hourly income is just $7.23 for rural midwives and $12.80 for urban midwives.

Socio-economic pressures, obesity and a greater number of scans have increased midwives’ workloads, but their pay remained “frozen”.

The New Zealand College of Midwives estimates the average hourly income for rural midwives is $7.23, and $12.80 for urban midwives.

There was no funding for travel costs nor administrative work. If a pregnant woman left the area due to a complicated birth – for instance travelling to a hospital – the midwife then lost the nearly $1000 “birthing fee”, which covers much of their earlier work.

Alonso said if a woman in her care gave birth while she was away, it could cost her up to $2000 to pay someone else to cover her. The situation was dire and, if nothing changed, rural midwives would continue to quit, leaving mothers hours away from their nearest hospital, she said.

Friends working in small southern towns were at their wits end and many were considering leaving, she said. ​The Wanaka Midwives practice is down to one fulltime practitioner and the closest primary birthing unit is an hour away in Alexandra.

Morgan Weathington finished in Wanaka in late March and earlier said although she loved her job, she was exhausted after working 100-hour weeks for $5 an hour under the existing funding model.

“It’s make or break time and I don’t want [the midwifery care system] to break,” Alonso said.

Alonso joined 300 other pram-pushing mothers, midwives and healthcare workers in a march through Christchurch’s Hagley Park at midday on Thursday. They held signs reading ‘Midwives do it all night’ and ‘Labour, it’s time to deliver’ as they marched past Christchurch Women’s Hospital.

Student midwife Kirsty Wilkinson, who led the Christchurch march, said there “wasn’t much a midwife didn’t do”, but they were not compensated fairly for their commitment.

“It’s not good enough. These woman have the lives of mothers and babies in their hands and they deserve a better deal.

“They’re overworked, underpaid. They’re leaving the country in droves and we’re losing this valuable profession … our model of care is the envy of the world in terms of the midwifery care. It’s not the model that’s the problem, it’s the funding.”

New Zealand College of Midwives chief executive Karen Guilliland said the co-written funding model with the Ministry of a Health gained little traction with the last government.

“It’s not only pay equity we need – it’s actually pay.”

The new model was part of ongoing pay negotiations and would still be based on instalment payments throughout the course of a pregnancy, she said.

– Stuff