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Baby boom restarts as maternity cutbacks bite

Monday, 12th November 2012

Cutbacks are hitting maternity services across the country just as the decade-long baby boom is starting to take off again, according to information released today by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

New birth figures for the first quarter of this year reveal that 4,600 more babies were born in England in January to March than in the same period last year. These figures suggest that more than 700,000 babies will be born in England this year, which will be the highest number of any year since 1971. Rises were also recorded in Scotland and Wales.

“The baby boom is restarting with renewed vigour,” commented RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick. “We are already at birth numbers that haven’t been seen for at least a couple of generations, probably not in the working life of any midwife practising today. Today’s midwives simply have never seen anything like it. The demand this is placing on the NHS is enormous.”

Even before this most recent rise, the growing number of births was outpacing the recent growth in midwife numbers. The average number of births per midwife, for example, has worsened in the North West, the West Midlands, London, and the South West, as well as across England as a whole.

Our calculation is that England is short of 5,000 full-time equivalent midwives (FTE), and that Wales is short of over 150 FTE midwives. Scotland and Northern Ireland are not short of midwives currently, but their ageing workforces mean that they do need to keep recruiting new midwives to avoid the emergence of a retirement time-bomb.

Evidence of the impact of this shortage of midwives is clear. A recent poll of over 2,000 midwives, conducted by the RCM, found that 89 per cent did not feel able to give women all the care and support they need*. Another recent poll, of mothers, conducted by the Bounty Word of Mum panel, found that around half would have liked more time with their midwife.**

The 2012 Income Data Services staff survey of midwives across the UK***, found that 19 out of every 20 midwives reported that in the last 12 months staff shortages had occurred “frequently” or “sometimes”. As a result, 87 per cent of midwives responding to the same survey said they “frequently” or “always” worked more than their contracted hours.

Just as the baby boom is being reignited, NHS maternity services across the country are being cut back. In a recent survey more than a quarter of UK heads of midwifery (HOMs) report that their budget has been cut in the last 12 months.***

The impact can be seen in training. Student midwife numbers are being cut in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The bursary paid to student midwives in Northern Ireland, to help them meet the costs of study, is being cut by £890.

Job prospects for newly-qualified midwives are increasingly bleak too. The findings of a survey of newly-qualified midwives released today by the RCM, reveal that a third (32%) of new midwives who have started looking for work have not found a job as a midwife. Of these, almost a half (47%) have been looking for more than three months. Only a third (34%) feel optimistic about their chances of finding work as a midwife. †

These findings back up anecdotal evidence from student midwives in universities such as Hull who are finding it virtually impossible to find work as midwives.

Cathy Warwick commented, “What is so frustrating is that there is a clear need for more midwives. We have record-breaking birth figures, and we need all the midwives we can get. We’re training midwives, but we’re not recruiting them. That is a sad waste of all their time and effort, and a waste of taxpayers’ money too. We have to stop throwing away the talents of these young midwives and recruit them into the service. They are needed, and it’s an utterly false economy not to bring them into the NHS.”

Information from the RCM’s HOMs survey demonstrates the scale of this disconnect between how many midwives are needed and how many units actually employ. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of HOMs (62 per cent) said that the number of midwives they have the budget to employ is less than they need.

Many units are facing the axe too. So far this year the birth centres in Darley Dale and Corbar, in the East Midlands, have closed, and births no longer take place at units in Canterbury or Dover. The midwife-led unit in Harwich, in Essex, frequently closes because of a shortage of midwives.

“The units that have closed are the tip of the iceberg,” said Cathy Warwick. “A tenth of the heads of midwifery who responded to our recent survey told us that they have a midwife-led unit in their area that is in danger of closure. More than half of HOMs reported having to close units temporarily, as happens regularly in Harwich, after staff become overwhelmed by the number of women going into labour. This happens in each of these units an average of seven separate times a year.”

Reviews of services across several NHS trusts taking places in the East Midlands and parts of London also place big question marks over many maternity units.

Cathy Warwick added, “NHS maternity services, especially in England, are on a knife-edge. We have carried shortages for years, but with the number of births going up and up and up.  I really believe we are at the limit of what maternity services can safely deliver.”

For further information please contact the RCM Press Office on 020 7312 3456, pressofficer@rcm.org.uk

Ends


Notes to editors
* Online survey of 2,956 midwives conducted in August 2012 by Blue State Digital on behalf of the RCM.

**See the press release at http://www.rcm.org.uk/college/about/media-centre/press-releases/rcm-comment-on-caesarean-section-research-01-08-12/120000-women-may-not-be-getting-support/

***See RCM Submission to the Pay Review Body 2012 at http://www.rcm.org.uk/college/support-at-work/pay/.

† See the RCM survey of student midwives at http://www.rcm.org.uk/college/policy-practice/midwifery-research/survey/

The Royal College of Midwives is the voice of midwifery. We are the UK’s only trade union and professional organisation led by midwives for midwives. The vast majority of the midwifery profession are our members. The RCM promotes midwifery, quality maternity services and professional standards. We support and represent our members individually and collectively in all four UK countries.  We influence on behalf of our members and for the interests of the women and families for which they care. 


 

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