Half of maternity units understaffed says new survey

By Half of maternity units understaffed says new survey on 03 March 2020 Midwives RCM Maternity Services NHS Staff Staffing Levels Midwifery Director For Midwifery Midwifery Workforce Survey NHS Pay Review Body

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is calling for more investment in midwives and maternity services as a new RCM survey of senior midwives shows half of maternity units are understaffed.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the RCM, said:

“Despite positive government commitments to increase midwife numbers our maternity services are facing increasing demand and insufficient staffing and resources. This impacts on the quality of care women are receiving and most importantly it is affecting the safety of our maternity services. We need to see the pace of midwife increases stepped-up and more investment put into our maternity services.”

The survey of Directors and Heads of Midwifery shows that midwifery vacancies have doubled in the past year adding to the pressures on maternity services. There has also been a sharp rise in midwives being redeployed from their normal area of work, such as in the community, to cover essential services including labour wards and delivery suites. This means other key services such as home births and births on midwife-led units are cut back, reducing choice for women.


Key findings from the survey:

  • Over half (54%) said their funded staffing is below recommended levels
  • Eight out of ten (80%) have midwife vacancies and the number has almost doubled from 611 in 2018 to 1056 in 2019
  • Almost a fifth (17%) said they had to reduce services in the past year compared with 7% in 2018
  • Seven out of ten (74%) reported having to redeploy staff at least once a week to cover essential services compared to 62% in 2018
  • All (100%) agreed their team are motivated to provide high quality, safe care to women. But over two-thirds (72%) said morale was just ok or poor, compared to half (50%) in 2018.


Gill Walton added: “Pressures on our midwives, maternity support workers and wider maternity team are hitting morale. Services are too often relying on the goodwill of staff to keep them safe and of high quality. Poor morale leads to poorer services. This is not the way to treat staff and it is not the way to ensure women get the best possible care.”




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

Notes to editors


The directors and heads of midwifery survey is part of the RCM’s evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB). The RCM is giving oral evidence to the NHSPRB

Tuesday, 3 February).


The full results of the RCM’s survey of directors and heads of midwifery and the RCM’s full evidence to the NHS pay review Body can be read here.


The survey was sent to Director and Heads of Midwifery in 156 trusts/health boards in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; the response rate was 60%.


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/.