Gail Cartwright, Midwife

Squeezing our public sector professionals

Public sector pay restraint since 2010 has resulted in some five million workers struggling to survive. Many public sector staff now earn £2,000–3,000 less in real terms than in 2010. What does that mean for our frontline services?

The pro:

Gail Cartwright, midwife, RCM member and team lead at University Hospitalsof North Midlands

The job:

  • Ten-hour day, starting at 6.30am
  • Coordinating a team of over 15 staff
  • Visiting expectant mums and delivering babies at home
  • Admin on Fridays (or covering clinical shifts if a staff member is off sick)

The motivation:

“I wanted to be a midwife at 17 years old,” says Gail. “My twin brothers were born 17 years after me – my mum was an older mum and had valuable care from her midwives. At the time, you had to be a nurse to become a midwife which didn’t interest me, so I went into the civil service until my 30s, when direct entry into midwifery was possible.”

The changes:

“I have the best job in the world. But it has changed remarkably from being a service for women, to being all about paperwork and targets,” Gail says. “We used to visit women in their homes, but now have to ask them to come to hospital as a cost-saving measure. The service feels like it’s being dumbed down.”

When people go on long-term sick leave, support staff aren’t available – the team has to cover absencesthemselves, Gail says. Morale is low because of staffing levels and pay. The value of an average midwife’s annual pay has dropped by over £6,000 since 2010.

The impact:

“Lots of people start the three-year training but find the unsocial hours and low pay a challenge,” explains Gail. “I know midwives who’ve left to work in Sainsbury’s to escape the stress, despite loving the job.” Some also leave because they can’t give the care they want to give expectant mothers.All this as a nationwide shortage of midwives is set to worsen with many approaching retirement.

Cost-saving measures such as relocating services into hospitals may be damaging. “We only really identify vulnerable women when we see them at home,” says Gail.“We may well miss this when they come into hospitals, so the most vulnerable could go unsupported.”

Some midwives in Gail’s team work overtime just to maintain the same level of income. “The world is moving on and we seem to be stagnating, yet we’re making key decisions concerning birth, every minute of the day,” she says. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

The solution:

The government needs to pay a fair wage, says Gail, “and give us the recognition we deserve for the huge responsibility we have”. Gail has been campaigning with her union and the TUC to get the government to give public servants a long-overdue payrise after seven years of real-terms pay cuts.