‘Worrying’ says RCM on new stats showing consultant midwife shortage

on 25 September 2019 RCM Annual Conference Leadership Safety Midwife Shortage Specialist Midwives

The UK has a serious shortage of consultant midwives show new figures released today by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) at its Annual Conference in Manchester.

The figures from a new survey of consultant midwives build on the results of a survey in 2016 by RCM and the RCM Consultant Midwives Network. They show little or no increase in the number of consultant midwives in all UK countries. Well over half of health trusts and boards in the UK (59%) do not employ a consultant midwife, responses to the survey show.

The UK as a whole increased the number of consultant midwives by just four between 2016 and 2018 from 89 to 93. This equates to each health trust or board having the equivalent of less than one full-time consultant midwife. This is a real concern for the RCM.


This shortage is a serious problem. Consultant midwives are crucial to ensuring that maternity services are delivering the safest and highest quality care possible. The call for more consultant midwives is one of the seven key asks in the RCM’s Leadership Manifesto published in late August.

England gained just one more consultant midwife from 2016 to 2018 moving from 74 to 75. In the other UK countries Wales has seen the largest increase moving from six in 2016 to nine in 2018. Scotland and Northern Ireland were unchanged over that period staying at six and two consultant midwives respectively.

Concerns about managerial responsibilities creeping intro the role were revealed by the survey.  Around a third (30%)of consultant midwives that responded said they spent around 20 per cent or more of their time on management duties. This is a worrying statistic as this role should be fully clinically and strategical focused.

There is also a need for clarity around the relationship with consultant midwives and universities. A significant number (77%) of respondents reported a contribution to higher educational institute midwifery programmes. It is important that provision is made for an academic component to the role to support retention of consultant midwives with an interest in research and clinical academic careers.


The RCM also has fears that there is a consultant midwives retirement crisis developing.  Over half (52%) of those that responded to the survey were over 50 and would be eligible to retire in the near to medium future. At the same time there appears to be little real succession planning to offset this. Just five per cent of respondents said there was succession planning for future consultant midwives at their workplace.  

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives said: "More consultant midwives would mean better and safer care for women and their families. So the results of this survey are worrying.

“There appears also to be a major gap in workforce planning which has to be addressed.  We not only need to increase the number of consultant midwives but to plan for their replacements in the future.

 “The Government are rightly making big efforts to improve the safety of our already world class maternity services. This includes a commitment to giving England 3000 more midwives in training over the next few years. However we also need the right numbers of consultant midwives in place. They are key leaders in midwifery and maternity services are safer when we have them.”

More information on the consultant midwives survey can be found at https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/3550/consultant-midwives-survey-infographic_8.pdf and https://www.midirs.org/midirs-midwifery-digest-contents/.

The RCM’s Leadership Manifesto can be read on the RCM website at https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views/rcm-opinion/2019/strong-effective-midwifery-leadership-key-to-better-safer-maternity-care-rcm-midwifery-leadership-manifesto-launched/.

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

Notes to Editors

The Consultant midwives survey was conducted through Survey Monkey during 2018, around 98% of consultant midwives in the UK and the Channel Islands responded. (90 consultant midwives responded).

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 https://www.rcm.org.uk/.