Falling NHS midwife numbers show worrying trend says the RCM

on 18 May 2022 Midwives RCM Maternity Services Maternity Safety NMC - Nursing and Midwifery Council Midwife Shortage Report Midwifery Workforce MSWs - Maternity Support Workers

Despite an overall increase In the number of midwives on its register the Nursing and Midwifery Council - the UK midwifery regulator - has in a report today raised concerns about the numbers leaving. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) echoes its concerns and says the number of midwives working in the NHS is also falling as the numbers fail to keep pace with rising demands on maternity services, and don’t plug the gaps to cover those leaving.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the RCM said: “We are already 2000 midwives short in England, yet the number in the NHS continues to fall while demands on maternity services grow. Other UK countries are also facing pressures. This is not sustainable and is without doubt having an impact on the safety and quality of care for women, babies, and their families.

“It is also putting massive and unreasonable pressures on NHS midwives and maternity support workers - already battered by the pandemic - and many are starting to vote with their feet and leave the NHS. They are deeply concerned they cannot do their job well and safely and the excessive demands on them is also hitting their mental and physical health. In many places staff goodwill is keeping services safe and afloat. I have real fears that this situation is chipping away at the morale and resilience of an already fragile workforce. We must support, protect, and enable them to do what they came into the profession to do; deliver the best possible care to women and babies.”

RCM analysis of the latest official NHS workforce statistics show that in the 12 months to February this year England’s NHS midwifery workforce shrank by 458 midwives, continuing a downward trend. Other UK countries are also facing staffing challenges.

RCM surveys of its Scottish members this year and across the UK last year show significant numbers of midwives are seriously thinking of leaving the NHS. A situation mirrored in the NHS England staff survey results. In its Blueprint for better maternity care in Northern Ireland published in March, the RCM said there is a serious need for more midwives and other trained maternity staff. The recent Ockenden Report also laid out the need for significant investment in the maternity workforce.

Gill Walton added, “We are in a vicious cycle of pressures forcing people to leave the NHS. This is leading to more pressure on those remaining, and we simply cannot continue like this. We need a significant injection of investment into NHS maternity services across the UK to increase midwife numbers and ensure they have the resources needed. We also need real efforts to retain the staff we have and halt this haemorrhage out of the NHS. We have major pressures bearing down on our maternity services that all governments must acknowledge.

“We are crying out for governments across the UK to address these issues urgently and give us the maternity services women can feel safe and secure about using, and that staff want to continue working in. Right now, and too often, we have neither.”


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

Notes to Editors

The NMC report will be at Registration data reports - The Nursing and Midwifery Council (nmc.org.uk).

On the RCM’s survey of its Scottish members see Mounting Scottish maternity service staffing shortages spark safety fears says RCM.

The RCM Blueprint for Northern Ireland’s maternity services is at Get behind our plans to deliver better maternity care for Northern Ireland’s women RCM urges politicians.

See also Government undervaluing midwifery workforce is ‘No joke’, says RCM.

The RCM’s response to the Ockenden report is at RCM response to Ockenden review into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford.

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

See also Stem the tide of midwives leaving the profession, RCM tells Downing Street.

The RCM’s UK wide survey of its members is at RCM warns of midwife exodus as maternity staffing crisis grows.

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