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Momentum gains in numbers

Midwives magazine: Issue 6 :: 2012

Stuart Bonar reports good news on England’s midwife numbers, while the new under-secretary of state for health pledges his commitment to ensuring the upward trend continues.

Stuart Bonar
Stuart Bonar
It is very much a mixed picture for midwife numbers across the UK right now.
The number working in the NHS in Wales, for example, fell in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and is down 12% in just three years. In Northern Ireland, the number of midwives is on a high, while in Scotland the situation is a little hazy as the NHS there carries out a data cleansing exercise to make sure that it is counting all its midwives correctly.

In England – always the poor performer when it comes to midwife numbers – we may be seeing something very good happening. I believe this is, in part, thanks to the 76,000-plus signatures on our ‘more midwives’ e-petition, which so many of you signed and promoted, so thank you once again.

Firstly, there were – at the last count in June – more midwives in post in the NHS in England than at any time in history, with the equivalent of 21,092 working full time. There are also more midwives in training than ever before, with almost 6000 in 2011-12.
And there is more. BBC Radio 5 Live recently reported on maternity services. Our chief executive Cathy Warwick appeared, as did Dr Dan Poulter, the under-secretary of state for health responsible for NHS maternity services in England.

The feature kicked off with the BBC’s statement that ‘the Department of Health says at least 3500 more midwives are needed to cope with the growing number of women having babies in England’. This is an advance, as I don’t recall the government admitting to such a large shortage previously.

Dr Poulter stated several times his commitment to delivering more midwives. He said: ‘Something I am very strongly going to be pushing on as the new minister is to make sure that we support the delivery of more midwives.

‘We’re going to be looking to do some work with Cathy and the RCM that will actually focus on making sure that training always translates into jobs. There is more to do about making sure that the increasing number the government is training find their way into employment locally. That’s something that we are very much looking into and Cathy and I will be working on together.’

He added: ‘We have got to make sure those 5000 additional midwives actually find jobs on the ground and that’s what we are going to do.’

In late September and early October, the RCM organised health debates at the three main party conferences – Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative – attracting speakers including Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb, Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and Conservative chair of the Commons Health Committee Stephen Dorrell. We did this as a part of the Health Hotel, of which we have been a member for some years.

The debate gave us the opportunity to be heard at the highest political levels and be seen by those key decision-makers who are central to the big debates occurring in health policy right now. It is just one example of what we do all year round to ensure the voice of midwives is heard by those running the country.

Stuart Bonar
RCM public affairs officer