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Oh baby! Midwives struggling to deliver service

Te Whatu Ora Health NZ admits Wairarapa midwives are rushed off their feet trying to fill gaps in the roster created by continued staff shortages.

Health NZ said Wairarapa Hospital’s maternity ward staff had been picking up extra shifts for the past six months to ensure patients had a midwife at their bedsides.

College of Midwives Wellington chair Suzi Hume said extra shifts meant personal sacrifices.

“They’re doing more than they’re contracted for, juggling other shifts, sacrificing time with their own families.

“Wairarapa has an amazing workforce. They always put the mothers and the whanau first.”

Health NZ interim district director Dale Oliff said the staffing shortfall had become increasingly evident over the past six months.

“Due to the shortage, a majority of midwives are picking up extra shifts.

“The midwives are incredible and continue to work rostered and rotating shifts, take their leave and attend their annual education.”

Information published on the New Zealand Parliament website showed there were 5.1 fulltime equivalent vacancies for core midwives in Wairarapa as of October this year, a 26.8 per cent vacancy rate. At the same time last year, there was a 6.5 per cent vacancy rate with one fulltime equivalent gap.

Between 2017 and 2020, there were no vacancies for midwives.

Oliff attributed the shortage of midwives to the number of midwives moving to lead maternity carers [LMC] roles.

“There has been a consistent level of vacancy for many months now at a national level.

“Within Wairarapa, there are frequent movements across the workforce between LMC and hospital-based midwives. Even small movements in numbers often have a disproportionate effect upon averages.

“The movement across the two workforces is not necessarily a loss of midwifery capacity to the district.”

Oliff said expectant mothers were not negatively impacted, despite the shortage at the hospital.

“The shortage does not affect expectant [mothers], there are midwives to provide their care in our region.”

The online site findyourmidwife.co.nz indicated only four midwives would be available in Wairarapa in nine months’ time should a resident become pregnant now.

Earlier this year, there were fears among Wairararpa midwives that staffing shortages would reach catastrophic levels, with an anticipated 60 per cent deficit created by midwives retiring or going on maternity leave in the coming year.

However, Oliff said this was not the case, and four graduate midwives were due to start at the hospital in late 2023.

“We have one midwife that has just started her maternity leave, and we have not received any notifications of any imminent retirement,” she said.

She said recruitment efforts were underway for all health workers, including midwives, with an international recruitment plan launched earlier this month.

Times-Age attempts to speak to Wairarapa Hospital midwives about the staffing shortages were unsuccessful.

Requests for comment since November have been referred to Health NZ and subsequently to the Official Information Act team.

While seeking comment, an anonymous midwife said the subject of staff shortages was an important story, as it is an ongoing issue.

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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