The safety of NHS maternity services is under threat, according to a new report from the Royal College of Midwives (RcM).
The report ‘The gathering storm: England’s midwifery workforce challenges’ outlines how issues such as rising levels of complexity in pregnancy, midwife shortages and financial constraints in the NHS are ramping up the pressure on England’s maternity workforce and services.
England’s maternity services are facing sharply increasing demands. This is coming from an increasing and persistently high birth rate. Births in England rose in 2015 (the most recent year for which figures are available) and were up 100,000 on 2001.
Births are also more complex needing more of midwives’ and other staff’s time. For example there are more births to older women and increasing levels of obesity in pregnancy.
There is also a serious, longstanding and continuing midwife shortage in England; one that has lasted for over a generation. England is 3,500 full time midwives short of the numbers it needs.
The total number of student midwives also fell at the last count, meaning fewer coming through to replace those that may leave. The Government also continues to refuse to remove the question mark hanging over the long-term legal status of England’s 1,300 EU midwives. This could potentially leave England with an even more serious midwife shortage.
England also has an increasingly dissatisfied midwifery workforce as stagnating pay and other employment issues bite into staff morale. A recent RCM survey of 1,500 RCM members from across the UK suggests that 40% of midwives are seriously thinking of leaving the midwifery profession in the next two to three years. This is especially worrying given that only around a quarter of those are midwives nearing retirement.
The report also puts forward solutions to the problems in maternity services. It sets out ways in which decision makers across government and England’s NHS can tackle the situation. These include a more adaptable approach to requests for flexible working, and allowing the NHS Pay Review Body free reign to recommend staff pay wards.
Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “England’s maternity services are buckling under the demands being made on them; this cannot continue. The Government has got to ensure England’s maternity services have the staff and resources to provide safe, high quality care. We are pointing out the problems and offering solutions and the Government has to listen to them.
“They have also got to do much more to show they value and support staff. Without the dedication and commitment of its staff and their determination to go above and beyond, NHS maternity services would be severely compromised, the safety of services would be in question and quality would fall. It is in the hands of the Government to do something about this gathering storm, but it needs doing now.”