Midwives given 'negative 37 minutes' warning' to put in last pay claims for 2021

Midwives are furious after being given "negative 37 minutes' warning" they'd need to get claims in ahead of Christmas, or face a month without pay. 

But it turns out the Ministry of Health made an error, giving the wrong date.

On-call midwives contracted exclusively to the Ministry of Health were emailed after 4pm on Wednesday telling them claims needed to be in by 3:30pm if they were going to be processed in the next few weeks. Any received after that wouldn't be looked at until office workers returned on January 10.

Once approved, payments can take eight working days to appear in midwives' bank accounts, south Auckland-based lead maternity carer Naomi Siddall told Newshub. 

"It's absolutely fine that they close down - that's not the problem. The problem is the notice period they gave us," she said. 

Siddall has been a midwife for eight years, and said normally the ministry gives them a couple of weeks' warning.

"There's no way they didn't know this was coming… It made me feel sick. It was [sent with] malicious intent. Very disrespected."

She said most midwives don't put in claims "10 minutes after each birth".

"It can pile up. A lot of midwives put aside a day for admin... then we know eight working days later we'll get a payment. You build up a couple of weeks' worth of work then put an invoice through."

The email from the ministry said the "extended close down period may have an impact but trust that this notification will enable you to plan accordingly". 

Another midwife who contacted Newshub anonymously said she couldn't believe it was real, calling the lack of notice "thoughtless and cruel".

"While I appreciate the need for all your staff to have well deserved time off over the holidays, the timing of this communication is so appalling and disrespectful that I at first took it as some kind of spam. Merry Christmas indeed."

Another posted on social media it was "lovely" that ministry office staff get time off over Christmas.

"We would all love two weeks off too, but completely not paying us for what we do for weeks is just crazy." 

Newshub contacted the Ministry of Health for a response to the midwives' complaints. A spokesperson said they had "fewer staff on today" and had the 1pm COVID-19 update to prepare, but would look into it. 

Before they could respond, Health Minister Andrew Little cleared up the confusuion in a post on Twitter.

Replying to National Party MP Joseph Mooney, Little said a "mistake in yesterday’s message gave yesterday's date instead of today's". 

That was backed up in an email sent to midwives and obtained by Newshub, which clarified the date was meant to be Thursday, December 23 - not December 22. 

As a compromise, the cutoff has been extended out to 12pm on Friday. 

"We apologise for any stress this may have caused," the email read. 

Little said an earlier pay run would also be scheduled in January.

Eventually, the Ministry of Health confirmed what Little said in his tweet: "We apologise and wish to take the opportunity to thank those in the health sector who continue to provide health services and care over the Christmas and holiday period."

'Disgusted and angry'

A Hawke's Bay midwife who didn't want to be named told Newshub midwives are "disgusted and angry" at the sudden deadline, particularly coming after changes to their pay structure which has seen their incomes "drop significantly". 

"Can’t believe it's legal," she said via email. "We really do need change or I promise midwifery like we know it will be over within 10 years."

Siddall said she used to take on four new mothers a month - but now needs seven to keep her income where it was.

Stuff reported a group of midwives have drafted a letter to Health Minister Andrew Little about the "disrespect" they're being shown. 

The country has a shortage of midwives, particularly in regional areas such as Southland. Analysis by the Ministry of Health in 2018 found they're worth about $241,000 each - about three times more than most are paid. 

"We're on call 24/7, so we do our births, we do our post-natal visits out in the community - which we were still doing all the way through COVID, going into people's houses," said Siddall. "Plunket weren't, midwives were. We were the only frontline force other than the EDs and hospitals that were still actively working face-to-face with everybody."