Why is there such a Shortage of Midwives in Ireland?

The demand for qualified midwives in Ireland is at an all-time high, with hospitals in Dublin and other cities experiencing intense pressure to staff their maternity and neonatal wards. Nursing agencies are facing an overall shortage of nurses and qualified healthcare professionals across the board but point out a particularly urgent demand for midwives.

This article focuses on the specific shortage of midwives in Ireland, considers the reasons for the scarcity and looks at measures the government is implementing to find solutions to the problem.


The top ten reasons why midwives are leaving the profession

The shortage of midwives in Ireland is becoming a cause for concern. Midwives in Ireland play an essential role in facilitating childbirth and providing pre and post-natal healthcare to women and their babies. They also play an advisory role in guiding women and girls on sexual health and contraception options.

Although a crucial and potentially rewarding career choice, hospitals and trusts are finding it increasingly difficult to retain qualified midwives. Some of the reasons for the  shortage of midwives are cited below:

  1. Hospitals are understaffed. Staffing shortages result in nurses and midwives having to manage overwhelming workloads with huge responsibilities and little support.
  2. Midwives don’t feel well-equipped or supported to provide quality patient care. As a consequence, their stress and exhaustion levels are high.
  3. Dublin is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. The cost of living crisis with rising rents and petrol costs in Dublin has made it difficult for midwives to make a living in the city.
  4. Shortage of parking spaces in hospitals. The lack of this essential provision requires hospital staff to arrive at work extra early to find a parking spot and still be on time for their shift.
  5. Better opportunities for midwives abroad. Irish nurses with their high level of qualifications and training are valued abroad. Huge recruitment drives offering nursing opportunities overseas with better pay and career progression, attracting hundreds of newly qualified Irish nurses, and increasing the shortage of midwives in Ireland.
  6. Midwives in Irish hospitals feel there is little scope for career progression. Midwives have lost their autonomy and feel there is no clear career pathway in midwifery to follow once they’ve qualified.
  7. The pandemic meant midwives and nurses couldn’t leave Ireland to work abroad over the last two years. There are now twice as many qualified midwife professionals leaving Ireland since the world opened up again to travel.
  8. Cuts in the health service. Reductions in investment in healthcare due to the pandemic have meant fewer career progression possibilities for nurses and midwives in Ireland.
  9. Feeling undervalued. Midwives and nurses report feeling undervalued by management and the public, leading to low professional morale.
  10. Women are more aware of their choices. Women are opting for pain-free births and midwife-led care in hospitals which has put more pressure on staff.


What are the solutions to the midwife shortage in Ireland?

  • There has been an increase in international nurse recruitment in Ireland since the year 2000. The drive will continue in an attempt to help meet the government’s demand to increase the number of nurses in Ireland.
  • At a recent ‘Midwifery Going Forward’ event at Munster Technological University (MTU), Tralee, discussions centered on the challenges within the profession with a focus on recruitment and retention of midwives. Discussions also drew attention to various roles and alternative pathways in midwifery with more potential for flexibility within the career. Reputable nursing agencies like Access Healthcare in Dublin, offer great solutions for midwives to work more flexibly.
  • Initiatives by Migrant Nurses Ireland (MNI) are conferring with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) to facilitate more efficient registration of overseas nurses in Ireland and make the aptitude test to enter the profession more accessible and migrant-friendly.
  • The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has appealed to the government to provide better recruitment and retention strategies for nurses by offering more attractive pay packages with special measures to counter rising living costs.
  • The INMO has also appealed to the government to provide subsidised housing schemes for nurses and midwives in cities and larger urban areas.
  • Midwifery services are moving more from hospitals to the community. Home births are becoming a more popular choice and early home transfer is more common. This will reduce the pressure on hospitals but will require the engagement of more community midwives.
  • To recognise the value of midwives who have risked their own health and safety to provide care to women and newborns over the last few years, there is now an official “International Day of the Midwife”. It was celebrated virtually on 5th May 2022 for the first time.


Is there a shortage of midwives in other countries?

Figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that there’s a global shortage of midwives with an alarming deficit of 900,000 unfilled job vacancies worldwide. Gender inequality is cited as a factor with a lack of recognition of the vital role of midwives and the shortcomings in providing care for the sexual health and reproductive needs of women and girls.

WHO has called for investment in the education and training of midwives and a greater recognition of their role.


Why agency nursing might be a good solution for midwives at risk of burnout

With newly qualified nurses and midwives going from training straight into understaffed hospitals where they’re often unsupported and expected to take on excessive responsibility, the exodus from the profession in the early years is high. Pressures on more experienced nurses to do their job and also take on supervisory roles mean they’re also more likely to experience burnout and quit the profession. Recent years have shown a marked increase in nurses and midwives retiring early.

The highest incidences of nurses suffering from mental and physical exhaustion tend to be in hospitals where they work long hours in understaffed and often under-resourced wards. Access Healthcare agency can be an attractive choice and a solution for the national shortage of midwives. It can relieve midwives from the relentless shifts of a full-time nursing job and enable them to keep practicing.


Consider the following benefits of agency nursing:
  • The pay rate is high. Although agency midwives don’t get a permanent post’s holiday pay and benefits packages, their hourly pay rate is good. Weekend shifts are also very well paid so midwives might choose to work weekends to boost their earnings. They are often paid after their shift ends and don’t have to wait for the monthly payday to access their money.
  • Keeping skills up-to-date. As more midwives leave to take on jobs in other sectors, they can keep their midwifery skills up-to-date by working occasional shifts through an agency.
  • Extra income for retired nurses. While the demands of full-time midwifery can be overwhelming, agency nursing allows older nurses to continue to practice and bring their expertise to the profession on a part-time basis
  • The patient-centered nature of agency nursing means nurses do less paperwork. They can go home after their shifts finish and easily avoid work politics.
  • Access Healthcare will try and place midwives in posts convenient to where they live.

If you’re interested in agency work with a professional agency, contact Access Healthcare for more information.