Dr David Clark: Midwifery Workforce Accord improves safety for all

Opinion 18/04/2019

Dr David Clark, Minister for Health, Labour MP

The new Midwifery Workforce Accord keeps midwives, mothers, and babies safe. 

One of the very reasons I entered politics and was so interested in taking up the Health portfolio is to try and make people’s lives better.

 Improving people’s health, access to services, and the equity of outcomes from those services, are some of the most effective ways to improve people’s lot. 

That starts at the very beginning – from birth.

That’s why I’m so pleased we’ve been able to reaffirm our commitment to safer staffing levels in maternity services with the new Midwifery Workforce Accord.

A long-term solution for safer staffing

This week, I hosted the signing of this agreement between the Ministry of Health, district health boards, the Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service (MERAS) and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO). 

After the formalities were over, it was great to have a cup of tea and talk about the future for this overwhelmingly female workforce with Caroline Conroy of MERAS and Hilary Graham-Smith of the NZNO. 

We know staffing levels for DHB employed midwives must be safe, both for mothers and their babies and for midwives themselves. 

We’ve made some real progress

Progress in agreeing a technical framework for this to happen in our hospitals and maternity units. 

A key part off this agreement is that all four accord parties will work together to roll out Care Capacity Demand Management (CCDM) in maternity services. 

CCDM is a tool our hospitals use to get the right balance between staff numbers, skill mix and demand. Getting this right will further improve the quality of care for mothers and their babies. It also has the potential to ensure better use of health resources and the sustainability of services through better forecasting and planning. 

Wider support for nurses, graduates, Māori and Pacific.

We know that securing a safer level of staffing in health care is critical to the wellbeing of all staff and ultimately means better care for their patients. 

That’s why last year, I also witnessed the signing of a Safer Staffing Accord for the nursing workforce. This work is progressing well and has similar criteria to fulfil, including advancing CCDM for nurses. 

While it’s great to have better tools for running our services, this week’s Accord also recognises the simple fact we need more midwives to continue to provide the level of care New Zealanders expect and deserve. 

I’m pleased that we’ll be exploring ways to offer more support and encouragement to new midwifery graduates.

We’re also developing a strategy to better support midwives during training, particularly Māori and Pacific midwives. 

On top of that, we’re looking at ways to make sure we hang to the midwives we’ve got, and maybe even attract some of those who’ve left the profession to come back. 

While we do this, we’re mindful that we need to grow our community based lead maternity carer workforce, and the Ministry of Health is continuing to work on that. 

An Accord fit for the future

As in many areas of our health services, the problems around safe staffing and workloads for all of our midwives have developed over many years. Everyone acknowledges they will take time to fix, but I’m looking forward to updates on how this Accord is working over the months and years to come. 

I think our midwifery unions, the DHBs and the Health Ministry have done us all proud by putting aside differences to work together on a plan that over time should improve things for mums, babies and midwives.

Dr David Clark is Minister of Health for Labour