Bump our pay

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Over 100 midwives, mums and bubs marched along Queenstown’s waterfront this morning to protest poor pay for midwives.

Local midwife Sharon White says without pay equity, four of Queenstown’s seven midwives will likely quit – including herself.

Today’s country-wide event was dubbed ‘pay midwives their due, march with midwives’.

“Without our service here in Queenstown, women just wouldn’t get [maternity] care and yet we’re finding it hard to feed our kids,” White says.

But if something doesn’t change she’ll walk away – despite loving her job.

Community midwives, known also as lead maternity carers, are paid a set amount of money for each part of the pregnancy they’re involved with.

For a woman’s first pregnancy they could be paid up to $2314.50, before tax and business expenses, for antenatal, postnatal, labour and birth services.

Because Queenstown doesn’t have a ‘secondary’ hospital, which can accommodate complicated births, women can opt or be forced to go to Dunedin or Invercargill.

But if a midwife is to head south with a patient they’re putting the rest of their caseload at risk.

White says “most of the time” local births are moved to Invercargill – leaving the midwives $1168 out of pocket.

“You’re hoping that they’re ‘normal’ [births], as soon as they become ‘abnormal’ or high dependency care is needed, you really end up working for free.

“For example one of the midwives that I work with had three clients last month, all three of them were planning to birth in Queenstown, all three have gone down to Invercargill to birth, so she’s lost potentially $3000 because they needed to have that [secondary] care.”

Health Minister David Clark is blaming the previous government for the health and midwifery “mess”.

He says the government is listening to the concerns of midwives and taking them seriously.

“This month’s budget will include a package to start addressing the issues facing midwives. I can’t announce budget details at this stage, and I think the public understand that we can’t solve everything in one budget.”

The community midwives are essentially contracting their services to the government and are paid as per section 88 of the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 – which was last amended in July 2017.

White says the cost of living also adds to the stress of being a midwife in Queenstown.

They are then only paid out in a lump sum once each part of the pregnancy has been completed.

Midwifery advisor from the New Zealand College of Midwives, Lesley Dixon, says since 2007 there have been “minimal” pay increases for both community midwives and hospital midwives.

In White’s case, she recently help birth her last baby as a community midwife and from now on will only work as a salaried hospital midwife at Lakes District Hospital, in order to stay afloat.

If pay was to increase for community midwives, she’d go back to doing both.

“The thing is the job takes a really huge toll on our families, most of us have children and we’re on call 24/7.

“My kids don’t know if I’m going to turn up to their school things, they don’t know if I’m going to be there in the morning, they don’t know if I’m going to come home if I’m at a birth and we don’t get paid anything extra that we put in to support these women.”

mandy.cooper@scene.co.nz