‘Why I’m striking for the first time ever’ by a York midwife

13 Oct 2014 @ 9.11 am
| News, Politics

Thousands of NHS workers downed tools today. Among them were midwives, striking for the very first time. YorkMix writer Alice Lavelle asked her mother Rachel Lavelle, a York midwife, why

Rachel Lavelle on the picket line outside York Hospital. Photographs: Richard McDougall

Why are you striking?

It’s the first time the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has ever been on strike and it’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly.

We are striking for a pay increase that we haven’t had for the past four years.

About Rachel


Job: Midwife, York Hospital

RCM role: Steward

Hours: 30 contracted hours a week, often works 7.5 paid overtime

A midwife since 2000, Rachel worked at St James’ Hospital in Leeds for three years, then transferred to York

I feel as if our hands are tied because of the nature of the job. We can’t stop the service entirely to prove a point.

We’re trying to make a stand, but with the least disruption for the public. I feel like we’ve been forced into taking measures we don’t want to take.

How do midwives feel?

Midwives and maternity support workers are fed up, disillusioned and feel undervalued and underrated. This isn’t the first time we’ve been overlooked and enough is enough.

We are angry, frustrated and upset.

Over 80 per cent said yes to a strike, but morale is low. We’re reluctant to strike because of the nature of our job.

What’s the plan for the strike?

It’s from 7am-11am on Monday (October 13) at the main entrance of York Hospital on Wigginton Road, and the rest of the week we and work as normal.

It’s not just the RCM, it’s other unions as well, including Unite and Unison.

The maternity unit is being operated like it would on Christmas Day, so the essential services will still be running.

What are you hoping to achieve?

We are hoping to achieve recognition for the work that we do and the money to show what we’re really worth.

I hope the strike makes future politicians sit up and take notice, so not only the NHS is valued but the people who work for it are valued as well.

There’s a shortage of midwives already, we don’t want to add to it. I truly believe the NHS is the best in the world, and it should be fully appreciated.

What’s the public reaction been like?

It’s been very positive over all. The majority of the public are in our favour, and there’s been no negative backlash as far as I’m aware.

What about regional and national bosses?

Midwives’ pay

Band 6 Midwife

Actual salary
Salary if it kept up with inflation

Band 3 Maternity Support Worker

Actual salary
Salary if it kept up with inflation

Source: RCM. Both figures are from the top of the pay scale

Because it’s a closed vote we don’t know how they voted, but I do know the management at York have been supportive, and everything is in place for Monday.

Do you think it’ll work?

I think it’s more difficult in the public sector to be heard, but I really hope so.

Why is this action important for the future?

Personally I think it’s so important to respect our future and newly qualified midwives who come to us with such high hopes and aspirations.

We need to nurture our future generation, it’s what I truly believe.

Describe your typical day.

There isn’t a typical day. I work on labour ward, so you just don’t know what to expect.

The ward could be full, or empty – but this generally isn’t the case!

A labouring woman needs round the clock care so you don’t have the luxury of sticking to normal shift patterns; it’s all consuming and emotionally challenging but I feel it’s my calling. I just love the job.

The picket line outside York Hospital on Monday

What’s the hardest thing about being a midwife?

It’s not always a happy ending.

What is the most rewarding thing about the job?

You come home knowing that you’ve made a difference.

I think as a midwife, it’s an absolute privilege to be involved in the care of a labouring woman. You’re involved in one of the most important times in that couple’s life.

You always do the best that you can. Sometimes you give just short of your soul, but you can’t afford that kind of emotional commitment!

What skills do you need as a midwife?

You need to be caring, compassionate, dedicated and patient.

The skill in being a midwife isn’t so much the delivery of a baby, it’s all the bits in between.

Anybody can deliver a baby – if it’s gonna be born, nothing can stop it. That’s the Disney version of the job.

What advice do you have for future midwives?

Think carefully. It’s not an easy career path, but it can be fulfilling.

It’s kind of like learning to drive – you can study all you want, but as soon you’re behind the wheel – that’s when the job begins.