RCM calls for investment in maternity services as midwife numbers fall in every English region

on 16 August 2022 RCM Maternity Services Midwifery Workforce Midwife Shortage England Pay Midwifery Midwives Staffing Levels Pay and Agenda For Change Government

Midwife numbers have fallen in every English region leading the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) to repeat its call for more investment in maternity services to ensure the safety and quality of care.

England has seen midwife numbers plummet by around 600 over the past year on top of an existing and longstanding shortage of over 2000 midwives. RCM analysis of new figures from NHS Digital show that this drop has affected every English region. Yorkshire and the North-East have seen the biggest losses with the East of England the lowest. Just last month a report from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel said there was no credible government strategy to tackle the crisis facing maternity services.

Last week new figures also showed that the birth-rate in England rose by over 10,000 between 2020 and 2021. Every English region saw an increase except London.

Dr Suzanne Tyler, Executive Director, Trade Union at the RCM said: “Even the smallest falls are putting increasing pressures on services already struggling with shortages, worsened by the pandemic. Report after report has warned about the dangers of poor staffing levels to safety yet midwife numbers have fallen significantly over the past year on top of already serious shortages in England. Now the birth-rate is on the rise again adding to the already significant demands on services.

“The falls across the regions are compounding the difficulties employers are facing to recruit and keep their midwives. Midwifery can be the best job in the world. We are raising these issues because we want women to get the best possible care and midwives to not only stay in the profession, but to encourage others to become one. These figures must shock this moribund government into action for the sake of women, babies, their families, and staff.”

The regional midwife falls (headcount) are:

  • North-East and Yorks - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 4,184 to 3,990. A fall of 194 midwives
  • North-West - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 3,701 to 3,579. A fall of 122 midwives
  • South-East - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 3,857 to 3,743. A fall of 114 midwives
  • London - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 4,957 to 4,846. A fall of 111 midwives
  • Midlands - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 5,033 to 4,969. A fall of 64 midwives.
  • South-West - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 2,499 to 2,454. A fall of 45 midwives
  • East of England - between April 2021 and April 2022 the midwife numbers fell from 2,800 to 2,786. A fall of 14 midwives

An RCM survey last year showed that over half (57%) of midwives were thinking of heading for the exit and leaving the NHS. The majority citing concerns about the safety and quality of care they were giving as the main reason. A poll of NHS staff in June also showed that pay was a major factor driving many away from the NHS. Over four out of five (80%) NHS health workers - including midwives - also said they would quit the NHS over concerns about pay.

The recent Ockenden Report and many others have cited poor staffing levels as directly linked to the safety and quality of care. The Health and Social Care Committee have also said that an additional £250-350 million is need yearly for England’s maternity services to ensure adequate staffing and safe care.

Dr Tyler added, “Midwives and maternity support workers are buckling with the sheer weight of demands on them, affecting their physical health and mental health. Services are remaining safe simply because of the sheer effort and dedication of maternity staff. The double whammy of an insulting pay offer from the Government is pushing midwives and MSWs out of the NHS. There is simmering and palpable discontent within the workforce not only for their own welfare, but for that of the people they care for. The Government must pull its head out of the sand and address urgently the crisis in our maternity services and wider NHS. The service is crumbling before our eyes and the Government cannot and must not ignore it.”


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

Notes to Editor

The NHS workforce statistics from April 2021 and April 2022 on which the RCM analysis is based can be found at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/nhs-workforce-statistics/april-2022 and https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/nhs-workforce-statistics/april-2021.

See England birth rate rise: 10,000 reasons why investment in maternity services is urgently needed says RCM.

See also Four out of five NHS staff say pay is main reason they would quit their jobs (rcm.org.uk).

See also RCM warns of midwife exodus as maternity staffing crisis grows.

See also Maternity underfunding means care based on what trusts can afford not on women’s safety and needs says RCM.

The Royal College of Midwives (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 | A professional organisation and trade union dedicated to serving the whole midwifery team.