The 28 midwives who decided to leave Akademiska hospital in Uppsala said on Friday that they had demanded an extra 5,000 kronor ($778) in salary every month. They were given less than half of that sum.
Yet the midwives claimed they quit not only because of the size of their individual pay packages, but because they were worried that low salaries and a "stalled salary development" meant that Swedish maternal care could no longer attract midwives, putting expectant mothers' health at risk.
"We hope that management will take its responsibility. You cannot run the maternity clinic 28 midwives down, that's clear. We need a solution," midwife Jenny Kihlström Larsson told the TT news agency. She said the salaries were too low and that salary development had stalled.
"So far we've been told that we are prioritized when it comes to revision salaries," she added before saying that the proposed raise was not acceptable to her and her colleagues. "It gives about a four-percent rise. It's nothing."
News that maternal healthcare in nearby Stockholm has struggled to find staff had several of the Uppsala midwives eyeing a potential move to the capital region, while some were considering working in neighbouring Norway, Kihlström Larsson said.
Indeed, Stockholm midwives can earn anywhere between 30,000 kronor and 38,000 kronor a month, with students aiming at a 30,000 kronor entry level salary, Jane Stegrin, vice chairwoman of the Stockholm Association of Health Professionals, told The Local.
But even in Stockholm, salaries can vary wildly between midwives in the delivery ward and those working with families in the pre- and after-birth phases of the pregnancy, she added.
The mass resignation in Uppsala came as no surprise to the independent trade union the Swedish Association of Health Professionals (Vårdförbundet).
"They're quitting just ahead of the summer, it is very serious," chairwoman Monica Hedström Carlsson said in reference to the demands on scaled-back staff in the summer dealing with a high number of patients.
The news came just one day after the association in Stockholm warned that the failure to attract midwives was putting patients' at risk.
"Women about to give birth are scared," the it said in a statement on Thursday. "Many come in early because they are worried about not being given space, which leads to protracted labour with more epidurals and an increase in the use of suction cups."
They added that some women did the reverse, staying at home for too long because they had not been allocated a hospital bed.
"So they have to do all the work themselves without a midwife present," the statement read. "We see how injuries related to giving birth are increasing."
In Stockholm, the association said it wanted to have one midwife on the floor per woman giving birth. The representatives also demanded that regional politicians – healthcare is managed at county level in Sweden – take "long-term responsibility" for planning maternity care. They also criticized the current model where new staff and substitute midwives were given insufficient on-the-job training.
"It's not enough to be thrown into an already beleaguered workplace and get inadequate training for two weeks," they wrote. "A structured professional introduction takes several months."