The first ever group of midwife helpers, known as maternity support assistants, are about to graduate from their two-year apprenticeships at Basildon Hospital .

During their time split between on-the-job training and studying at the hospital’s education centre the seven strong group of assistants have mastered their role – to take the pressure off overworked midwives.

They do everything from taking samples, checking blood pressure and preparing equipment to making a cup of tea for an exhausted new mums so that midwives can get on with the job of delivering babies and administering pain relief.

The assistants also help care for the baby when the mother has undergone a C-section or other complications with the birth and needs a helping hand.

Elizabeth Carpenter, manager of the hospital’s Cedar ward, said: “Our maternity support assistants are invaluable to us. We have a great team here.

“Their work means midwives can concentrate on the clinical role whereas the maternity support assistants can spend more time with the mothers and help with practical things with the babies.”

The hospital’s maternity support assistants apprentice scheme was recently praised as “pioneering” by the Royal College of Midwives.

Before it was introduced assistants known as “clinical health workers” would take the burden off midwives, however the apprenticeship course has made their training far more structured and in-depth.

The course also gives the assistants the chance to learn about healthcare legislation and nursing policies as well as completing coursework and practical assessments.

Susan Kinnear, staff training manager at Basildon Hospital said: “We are thrilled the scheme was labelled pioneering as we believe it is.

“We are the only hospital in the area as far as we know who have brought in this apprenticeship scheme.

“We have already started another five support assistants on the course and will be taking on another group of students very soon.

“Maternity support assistants find their job very rewarding and some use it as a stepping stone towwards becoming a qualified midwife.”

So far all the assistants at Basildon are women, but that doesn’t mean a man wouldn’t be accepted.

Basildon Hospital has only one male midwife, but the job is open to people of either sex and any age over 18.

Not surprisingly, maternity care assistants get the best and the worst of everything that comes with helping to bring a baby into the world.

Jo Liberi, 49, from Basildon who gave up a career in hairdressing to become one of the maternity support assistants, said: “It’s tough. Sometimes we have to work 12-hour shifts to ensure patients get continuity of care, but I love this job.

“We get to spend a lot more time with the patient than midwives do and build up a bond.

“It’s a fun place to work too. Patients can be very appreciative of our work and we get lots of thank you letters and cards.

“We haven’t had a baby named after anyone in our group yet, but we have seen such unusual names as Hercules and Majesty. We’re also seeing a lot of Willows.”

Already considered one of the busiest in the region where 4,300 tots are born each year, Basildon’s maternity unit is now braced for a baby boom as a result of the success of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

The book, dubbed “mummy porn” charts the relationship between billionaire bigwig Christian Grey and a young student named Anastasia – with some hot-under-the-collar plotlines thrown in.

Cedar ward manager Elizabeth added “We get baby booms, normally due to events that keep people indoors, like Christmas or a lot of snow.

“We’ve had one because of the recession and we definitely will see one because of Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps we will have a lot of Christians and Anastasias in nine months time!”