The Government is introducing new measures to try and reverse the shrinking of New Zealand's midwifery workforce, a move a sector representative welcomes but says is too late.
Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall announced today the Government wants to give midwives who need support access to an experienced DHB midwife, who would act as a coach and provide both clinical and wider support. This group could include graduate midwives and those coming back into the workforce.
“The DHB midwifery workforce has been shrinking, while demand for their services and expertise is increasing,” Verrall said.
“In order to support them, clinical coaches will stand shoulder to shoulder with midwives on the maternity wards, as they care for the health and medical needs of pregnant and birthing women.
“By providing practical support and further career options, the development of a formal clinical coach role will create a new career pathway for existing midwives, and encourage midwives who have been out of clinical practice to consider a return to midwifery."
Wellington midwife and Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service representative Sarah Gilbertson said she was “really grateful” for the initiative.
But, it was a “band aid” solution, and was “too little too late”, she added.
Midwives in New Zealand, such as self-employed lead maternity carers, often had to work alone and sometimes acted as the sole professional carer for a mother. So Gilbertson said she wanted that responsibility to be recognised in the way midwives were paid.
“[Being a midwife means] walking into an environment that is not set up to fully support you to do the job you want to do in the way you want to do it,” she said.
“Better pay and conditions, that’s what it boils down to.”
She said the reality was, midwives could go to Australia and be paid double what they do here in New Zealand.
There was "not a lot" that today’s announcement could do to address the issue of retention, Gilbertson added.
“In terms of retaining our young midwives that we’re investing in to train, what’s keeping them here?”
Gilbertson called on the Government to be “courageous” and actually invest in the sector.
The Government has allocated $5 million over three years for the initiative announced today, which comes from the $35 million already set aside for the Maternity Action Plan.
The Government has also set aside additional funding for the Return to Practice programme, which midwives who have been away from the workforce for some time must complete.
In its first year of funding, an extra $1600 per midwife is being made available for up to 40 people. That will increase to 60 midwives in future years.