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Report shows strain on maternity services

Posted: 21 January 2013 by Rob Dabrowski

The baby boom continues with mothers getting older, according to an annual report by the RCM.

Baby boom continues
The news comes in the second annual State of Maternity Services report, which is set to be launched at Parliament tomorrow (22 January).

The report highlights that there were 688,120 babies born to women in England in 2011 – the highest number for four decades.

While provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics for the first half of 2012 point to last year being a record-breaker and the birthrate potentially reaching 743,000 by 2014.

Cathy Warwick, RCM chief executive, said that England is still 5000 midwives short for providing the high-quality services that women deserve.
‘More midwives are being employed in England, and the number of places for midwives in training is on the rise,’ she said.

‘We are thankful for that, but efforts need to be redoubled because of the baby boom and the relentless rise in the number of babies being born, with some areas seeing more than a 50% rise in births in only a few years.’

In 2011, the number of babies born in England was up more than 124,000 on 2001 – the highest level since 1971.

While the number of babies born each year to women aged 40 or above has jumped by more than 80% over the last decade.

The number of births in Scotland remains high by recent standards, although it has fallen slightly over the last three years.

But the number of babies born in Scotland in 2011 was still more than 7000 higher than in 2002.

In Wales, the baby boom has slowed but the number of births in born in 2011 was still 16% higher than in 2001.

There were 25,273 babies born in Northern Ireland in 2011, which is an increase of 15% on 2001.

In three of the last four years – including in 2010 and 2011 – the number of births in the country has topped 25,000.

The increase in older mothers giving birth has not only affected England, but all countries in the UK.  

Cathy continued: ‘Maternity units are under intense strain and have been now for many years, with many midwives really at the end of their tether in terms of what they can tolerate. We are reaching a crucial tipping point for maternity services in England.
‘The midwifery profession is markedly older than it was a few years ago too, with many more midwives closer to retirement. We desperately need more midwives to reinvigorate the profession.

‘Ten years ago, only a third of midwives were aged 45 or over. In 2011, around half were in that age group. The number of midwives aged 65 or above has risen more than nine fold, from 13 to 122.’

She concluded: ‘We need to train more midwives and make absolutely sure that those who qualify get jobs without delay.’

Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour's shadow health minister, said: ‘This report should be a wake-up call for ministers – the baby boom is continuing whilst midwife numbers start to fall.

‘It's clear there's a long way to go before women and their babies receive the quality of care they deserve.’

The report will be available to view here, from 10am on Tuesday (22 January).