The Royal College of Midwives has again called on the government and NHS for more investment in maternity services to ensure the safety and quality of care for patients, after recording a fall in the number of midwives working in every region of England.
The RCM calculated that there was already a long-standing shortage of midwives around the country – around 2,000 fewer than would be needed for a full complement. But in the past year, more than 600 more midwives left the service.
That includes more than 100 midwives leaving the NHS in London.
Just last month, a report from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel said there was no credible government strategy to tackle the crisis facing maternity services.
New figures also show that the birth rate in England rose by more than 10,000 between 2020 and 2021.
“Even the smallest falls are putting increasing pressures on services already struggling with shortages, worsened by the pandemic,” said RCM trade union executive director Dr Suzanne Tyler.
“Report after report has warned about the dangers of poor staffing levels to safety, yet midwife numbers have fallen significantly over the past year on top of already serious shortages in England.
“Now the birth rate is on the rise again adding to the already significant demands on services.
“The falls across the regions are compounding the difficulties employers are facing to recruit and keep their midwives.
“Midwifery can be the best job in the world. We are raising these issues because we want women to get the best possible care and for midwives not only to stay in the profession, but to encourage others to become one.
“These figures must shock this moribund government into action for the sake of women, babies, their families, and staff.”
In London between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 4,957 to 4,846.
An RCM survey last year showed that 57per cent of midwives were considering leaving the NHS. The majority cited concerns about the safety and quality of care they were giving as the main reason.
A poll of NHS staff in June also showed that pay was a major factor driving many away from the NHS. In that poll, 4-in-5 health workers– including midwives – also said they would quit the NHS over concerns about pay.
The recent Ockenden Report and many others have cited poor staffing levels as directly linked to the safety and quality of care. The Health and Social Care Committee has also said that an additional £250million to £350million is needed annually for England’s maternity services to ensure adequate staffing and safe care.
Dr Tyler added, “Midwives and maternity support workers are buckling with the sheer weight of demands on them, affecting their physical health and mental health. Services are remaining safe simply because of the sheer effort and dedication of maternity staff.
“The double whammy of an insulting pay offer from the government is pushing midwives out of the NHS. There is simmering and palpable discontent within the workforce not only for their own welfare, but for that of the people they care for.
“The government must pull its head out of the sand and address urgently the crisis in our maternity services and wider NHS. The service is crumbling before our eyes and the government cannot and must not ignore it.”
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