Women in labour are being made to feel like cattle or like they are on a conveyor belt due to midwife shortages, a new report warns.
A lack of staffing leaves some women frightened and half experience at least one “red flag” event such as not getting timely access to pain relief.
The study, from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), is based on a survey of 2,500 women who have given birth since 2014.
It found that, since a similar report four years ago, there has been “scant progress” in women’s experiences of giving birth on the NHS.
Half of all women surveyed experienced at least one “red flag” problem, which is defined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) as being a “warning sign that something may be wrong with midwifery staffing”.
Problems include delays of 60 minutes or more in washing or suturing, medication doses being missed, delays of 30 minutes or more in getting pain relief, or when one midwife is not able to provide continuous one-to-one care and support to a woman during established labour.
The new report found that 17 per cent of women did not get such one-to-one care from midwives. Some 31% of women who required or received pain relief experienced a delay of 30 minutes or more, and 15% said there were delays in their immediate post-birth care, such as washing or suturing.
Meanwhile, 28% of women who needed medication either during or following the birth experienced a delay.
The survey also found that 89 per cent of women saw between one and six midwives during their pregnancy, with most seeing between one and four.
Some 88 per cent of women had never before met any of the midwives who looked after them during their birth, although 52 per cent said this did not make a difference to them, mainly due to the professionalism of the midwives caring for them.
But 12% said this made them feel alone and vulnerable, and six per cent said it made them feel unsafe.
Several women wrote about feeling like “cattle” or “a machine”.
One said: “I received a very ‘robotic’ care. It wasn’t very personal and I felt like just another person on the conveyor belt.”
Another said: “I wasn’t treated as a human. I was just a product on a conveyor belt. I was not respected and my birth has left me suffering post traumatic stress disorder.”
Another pointed to staffing issues, saying: “My chosen hospital ward and adjoining birth centre were extremely busy, or so I kept being told on the phone, which resulted in me having an unplanned home birth.”
One said: “There was no room for me on the delivery ward. I ended up giving birth in the antenatal ward, which meant I couldn’t get either a water birth or an epidural. Disappointed not to have had the labour I wanted because of staffing issues.’
Once women had given birth, almost one in five (18 per cent) said they did not see a midwife as often as they needed.
Some said the diagnosis of a health problem was delayed due to lack of care after birth, while others had to go to their GP, A&E, or walk-in centre instead.
“Issues with feeding the baby was the most-cited concern, followed by a woman’s desire to speak to a midwife about her own emotional and mental wellbeing, followed by issues with stitches and sore nipples.
Marylyn Haines Evans, chairwoman of public affairs at the NFWI, said: “The findings from this report show that chronic midwife shortages, continue to undermine the delivery of high-quality care for women and their families.
Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the NCT, said: “Our research has exposed a crisis in maternity care. No women should have to suffer a red flag event when bringing a baby into the world. Severe staffing shortages must be acted on.”