Scotland’s midwives under growing pressure as vacancies rise and complex pregnancies increase

on 11 September 2018 Midwife Shortage

Scotland is seeing increasing obesity levels and age of mothers in pregnancy and a big rise in midwifery vacancies. This means demands on Scottish maternity services are increasing says the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in Scotland in a new report out today.

In its latest State of Maternity Services Report for Scotland the RCM says that levels of overweight and obese pregnant women topped fifty per cent for the first time last year. Last year 51% per cent of women pregnant women were overweight or obese.  These women are more likely to require additional care and support throughout their pregnancy.

At the same time, the age of pregnant women in Scotland is also increasing. The majority (54 per cent) of Scottish babies born in 2017 were to women in their thirties or forties. Between 2000 and 2017 births to women in their early forties shot up over two-thirds (68 per cent), to 1,907 births. As with obesity, older women will typically require more care during their pregnancy. The RCM wants to ensure these women get the additional care and support they may need.

Pressures on services are being affected by a quadrupling of midwifery vacancies in the last five years, rising from 1.3% in 2013 to 5% in 2018. There are particular concerns about vacancy rates in NHS Boards in the North of Scotland. 

Some concerns remain over the ageing midwifery workforce despite an increase in the number of younger midwives. The proportion of midwives aged 50 or older jumped from 34 per cent in March 2013 to 40 per cent in March 2018.

There are, though, many positive developments in Scotland’s maternity services. The Scottish Government has heeded the concerns and lobbying of the RCM, increasing  the number of student midwives significantly in 2017 and 2018. The continuation of bursaries for student midwives has also been helpful in continuing to attract a high number of applicants to join the profession.

Commenting on the report, Mary Ross-Davie, Royal College of Midwives Director for Scotland, said: “There are some great things happening in our maternity services in Scotland, not least the very ambitious Best Start maternity programme. The Scottish Government has also delivered real increases in the number of student midwives, which we welcome. .

“However, pressures on our midwives are increasing – the care needs of the women in our care are rising, while the number of unfilled midwifery posts is also rising.  I am still concerned about the age profile of our midwifery workforce, though it is encouraging to see the ‘green shoots’ of higher numbers of younger midwives joining our service.  We need to work hard to ensure that midwives choose to stay and work in all parts of Scotland, including in the North and in our most remote communities.

“What is important is that our government continues to invest in maternity services to ensure they can cope with current and future demand. The NHS, the Scottish Government, the RCM and others need to keep working together to identify the challenges and tackle them. We should be aiming for our maternity care to not just be among the best in the world, but to be the best.”

Read the full Royal College of Midwives Annual State of Maternity Services Report for Scotland 2018.

To contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email [email protected].

Note to editors

The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at