'Dear David': Under-pressure midwives call for help from minister

Midwives across New Zealand are sharing stories about what they endure at work, and calling on the Health Minister for more funding to make their profession sustainable.

The Dear David campaign, administered by four Kiwi midwives, asks those in the profession to send stories about their work to Health Minister David Clark.

On Thursday they posted their stories on the windows of his Dunedin North electorate office, and they're sharing stories on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #saveourmidwives.

"Last week I drove 600km, filled my petrol tank 6 times, worked 66 hours in total, and spent 2 nights away from my family. My average income for the past 2 months has been $308/ week, just over $7/hr. I love my job but I am being forced to leave," a letter from Charlie reads. 

"To survive I do shifts at the local cafe where I get paid the same hourly rate as working the hospital as a midwife," a new graduate named Christie wrote.

"This week I was called out in the night three times, (an unwell woman, a baby not moving, a baby not feeding) - and none of these times for labour. I travelled a two hour round trip each time. I get no extra pay for these assessments. I worked 72 hours and earned $7.80 hr," an anonymous submission reads.

"I worked for 14 hours looking after a VERY complex labour as there were not enough hospital staff. I wet myself after waiting three hours for a bathroom break. Luckily she had been in the shower in the beginning so I was already wet and used that excuse to change into scrubs," said an anonymous midwife.

"I am a new graduate midwife who has worked a full month without time off, looking after 36 women. Due to poor payment structuring, I have not received a single payment during this time," Sarah wrote.

"Yesterday I saw 15 antenatal clients at clinic, 4 postnatal clients at their homes, received 16 phone calls and 22 texts from clients, had a 8 hr primip labour, then a 4 hour multop labour. It is only Tuesday and I've already worked more than 24 hours," an anonymous midwife wrote.

Dr Clark said he knows many midwives in New Zealand are feeling under pressure and want more support.

"Midwives I've met and spoken with have reinforced for me what a demanding and incredibly important job they do," he said.

"However, there is a global midwife shortage and that creates workforce challenges for New Zealand."

He said workforce challenges take time to fix, and "if the previous Government had bothered to do proper workforce planning then we might have avoided the sort of pressures we now seeing".

The Ministry of Health is looking at what can be done to address the shortage both in the short and longer term, at his request.