Midwives in Northern Ireland work thousands of unpaid hours to keep services running safely

on 17 May 2024 Northern Ireland Director For Northern Ireland RCM Northern Ireland Midwifery Midwives Midwife Shortage Maternity Services MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Safe high quality care Safety Maternity Safety Flexible Working

Findings published by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have revealed that during just one week in April midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) in Northern Ireland worked 4,300 unpaid hours to keep services running safely.

Three quarters (70%) of those who responded to the RCM’s poll had worked extra unpaid hours during the week from Monday 15 to Sunday 21 April. Alarmingly over two thirds (65%) of respondents told the RCM that they did not feel their workplace was safely staffed during those seven days in April.

Yesterday RCM’s Director for Northern Ireland, Karen Murray, told members of the Assembly’s Health Committee “Though some progress is being made, it’s clear that the HSC does not yet have enough midwives. More efforts in retaining staff are needed to improve the workforce situation. Fundamental to solving midwifery staffing challenges is the need for greater availability of flexible working.”

Despite this being one of the solutions to midwifery staffing issues in Northern Ireland, the results of this poll show of the quarter (25%) of RCM members who requested flexible working more than half (56%) had their request rejected. There RCM says flexible working is one of the key levers in retaining staff and would like to see more flexible working policies that enable staff to say when they are available to work and building rotas around that.

Karen added:

“The results of our member poll speak for themselves. Midwives and MSW’s in Northern Ireland are working thousands of additional hours week in week out to keep services running safely. It’s just not sustainable. Undoubtedly not having enough staff compromises safety and the quality of maternity care that can be delivered. Far too many UK reports have made a direct correlation between staffing shortages and safety. Staff are doing their utmost to plug the gaps, but that is taking its toll on our members’ physical and mental health, and it is not the way we should be delivering maternity services. Services can’t continue to run on the goodwill of midwives.”

The RCM says shockingly over two-thirds (66%) of those who responded to this poll have considered leaving their role as midwife or MSW in the last year. The results showed the top three reasons why staff in Northern Ireland are planning to leave midwifery with over two-thirds (65%) saying it was due to staffing levels, while over half (50%) said it was due to safety concerns. The remaining reasons cited by almost half (47%) was down to pay and terms of employment.

Earlier this year the RCM published a new guide ‘How to Fix the Midwifery Staffing Crisis’ which included low-cost solutions to improve working conditions for midwives so that maternity services can retain them. It was developed for current and future Members of Parliament, setting out solutions to the staffing challenges facing maternity services across the UK.



For interview requests and to contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email [email protected]



  • RCM poll of all members (midwives and MSWs) in Northern Ireland ran from midday on Monday 22 April 2023 until midnight on Monday 29 April 2024. It was conducted on Microsoft Forms, and was advertised via newsletters, social media posts and messages reps.
  • The questions asked were specifically related to RCM members’ experiences at work in the week from Monday 15 April to Sunday 21 April 2024 (inclusive).


The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team.  We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance, and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences, and online resources. For more information visit the RCM | A professional organisation and trade union dedicated to serving the whole midwifery team