NZNO ‘disappointed’ at midwives’ comments

May 1, 2021

NZNO was “very disappointed” at comments made about nurses by midwifery leaders, reported in an April 14 Stuff article (Safety concerns as nurses fill in for midwives), acting manager, nursing and professional services, Kate Weston said.

Co-leader of the midwives’ union, MERAS, Caroline Conroy was reported as saying that ‘nurses weren’t always able to pick up the early warning signs of a sick mother or baby. Midwives appreciated nurses helping, but there was a limit to what they could do and midwives had to oversee their work’.

College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy was reported in the same article as saying that registered nurses (RNs) ‘were not skilled in the physiology of newborns and could not provide the same level of breastfeeding expertise’ as midwives.

Their comments were inaccurate, damaged public confidence in nurses and “caused distress to our nurse members, who are making a valuable contribution in maternity”, Weston said.

NZNO did not dispute the problem of high midwifery vacancies, “but to state that nurses do not have the ‘same level’ of training as midwives is inaccurate”.

Both nursing and midwifery were degree programmes, and many nurses also had post-graduate qualifications, she said. “Nurses and midwives have different training and different scopes”.

In terms of caring for newborns, “nurses working both within the maternity service and in Well Child, paediatric and neonatal/special care baby units possess a very high level of technical skills, experience and knowledge” to support women in breast-feeding and other aspects of parenting, Weston said. Caring for sick or pre-term infants, including transitional care, was also a nursing skill, she said.

The suggestion that nurses “weren’t always able to pick up the early warning signs of a sick mother or baby” was particularly damaging, inaccurate and disrespectful.

“Nurses are accountable within their own scope for all care, which includes surgical and medical care and all care of the baby.

“Nurses are educated to care for people of all ages, in all stages of life and in any state of sickness or wellness,” Weston said. “Nurses are not trying to be midwives. Nurses respect and value the unique, specialised training of midwives. It is reasonable to expect the same professional courtesy to be extended to nurses.”

Conroy told Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand the Stuff article comments were about inexperienced nurses, rather than those experienced in maternity. She had not intended to denigrate nurses, who made a “valuable contribution” in maternity. “I fully appreciate why nurses are upset and that was not my intention.”

However, MERAS did believe maternity wards should be “100 per cent midwife-staffed”, she said. “Loading up maternity wards with nurses is not the solution.”

Midwives “have the legal responsibility of overseeing and supporting the care provided by the RN” yet the midwifery shortage meant this was not always possible, which was cause for “concern”, she said.

Conroy said she and Eddy had agreed to meet Weston to discuss nurses’ concerns and “clear the air”.