Emergency cover needed during midwife strike

Midwives strike yesterday outside the RVH in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Midwives strike yesterday outside the RVH in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

Striking midwives left the picket line yesterday morning to help with an emergency delivery.

Around a dozen staff from the Royal Victoria maternity unit in Belfast left a large flag-waving group at the Broadway entrance to return to the maternity suite.

Midwives across Northern Ireland staged a four-hour walkout in a dispute over pay - the first in the 134-year history of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

Staff cover similar to that of bank holidays was provided to ensure safe care levels.

The row centres on the failure to secure a recommended one per cent pay rise.

The RCM says the action is about "fairness" as a pay agreement has been reached with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.

Eileen Harte, a midwifery sister at the Royal with more than 20 years’ experience, said while the walkout was about pay, there was also "great strength of feeling" about work pressures.

"I have been a night sister for the past 13 years. We are supposed to work an 11.5 hour shift but the majority do not go home until well after 12 hours - and sometimes with very little breaks," she said.

"There is so much good will in our job but there is no good will from the Department of Health in return."

Carol-Ann Regan, who qualified two years ago as a midwife, said the work is "much tougher" than she expected.

"It is exhausting job both physically and mentally as you want to ensure safe care levels are maintained in a constantly busy unit."

For the Royal's neo-natal unit manager Phil Farrell, the day was an emotional one as it was her last in the job after 30 years - and her first time ever to strike.

"Things are different now in maternity care. You can see the pressure on staff, there’s not as many midwives in post and you can’t leave a woman in labour... It's sad that it's come to this that we have to join a picket line."

At the Mater hospital in north Belfast, striking community midwives also spoke of limited resources that has led to their post-natal visits to new mums being significantly reduced.

"Previously we would have spent 45 minutes with a new mum at her home, now this can be a little as 20 minutes as there is pressure to get onto the next job,"said Martina Cruz.

"Some of these women are first-time mothers and have been discharged six hours after giving birth - they need support."