Midwifery leaders say the government does not seem to understand the plight the sector finds itself in.
New Zealand is short by hundreds of midwives and there are fears that a new recruitment campaign in the health sector in New South Wales could exacerbate the problem of staff shortages.
On Sunday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet announced a $4.5 billion healthcare package that is expected to bring 10,000 more workers to the state over the next four years.
Midwives’ Union co-leader Caroline Conway said some midwives here are already going abroad, while others are burning out.
“Some just quit their jobs because it’s so stressful because of the shortages. It’s a downward spiral – you have vacancies and shortages putting pressure on your existing workforce and then the wise -women get to the point where they think, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” she explained.
“If they leave, it just puts even more stress on those left behind.”
She believed that at the very least the government should match the salary offered in Australia and pay midwifery students while they study.
“If you want our healthcare professionals to reflect the communities of New Zealand, we need to help local people pursue these careers in a way that is affordable to them,” she said.
Conway said healthcare degrees are intensive and often don’t allow students to work part-time while studying, creating a huge financial barrier for potential staff.
“For many midwifery students, this is a second career option, so they are not even eligible for the first year of free higher education. They are also fresh out of full-time employment. but still need to provide for their families.”
The country cannot rely solely on attracting international staff to address chronic staff shortages, she said.
New Zealand College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said now is the time for the government to do all it can to keep healthcare staff in the country.
Better pay in Australia and uncertainty around the transition to the Health New Zealand model could tempt people to cross the Tasman, she said.
“There just hasn’t been enough focus on the midwifery workforce. It’s a critical, relatively small but highly specialized workforce that we really needed investing and strategically looking at how we continue to develop our own New Zealand-trained midwives, many years ago,” she explained.
The country is already short of hundreds of midwives and Eddy said we cannot afford to lose any more.
The sector is catching up after years of neglect, but she believes there are short-term solutions that can be put in place to alleviate staffing shortages while long-term solutions are being worked out.
“There’s a lot more that can be done around retention initiatives like pay issues, voluntary bonding systems and better tuition support.”
Midwives have been in salary negotiations since the beginning of the year.