RCM urges Government to take opportunity to improve maternity care
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is today offering a ‘health check’ on England’s maternity services with the publication of its State of Maternity Services report. It follows hot on the heels of the NHS long-term workforce plan which was welcomed by the RCM, and which will go some way to addressing the issues in maternity services outlined in the report.
The impact of staffing shortages on women is ‘stark and sobering’ and highlights historical failures to invest appropriately in maternity services, says the RCM. Its predictions of a mounting maternity crisis are becoming a reality, with the current programme of Care Quality Commission inspections of maternity services identifying concerns around safety, directly linked to staffing shortages.
According to the report’s findings, if the number of NHS midwives in England had risen at the same pace as the overall health service workforce since the last general election, there would be no midwife shortage. Indeed, there would be 3,100 more midwives in the NHS, rather than having a shortfall of 2,500 full-time midwives. The RCM published the results of a survey last month which showed that midwives give 100,000 hours of free labour to the NHS per week to ensure safe care for women. It also showed that staffing levels were repeatedly cited as cause for concern around the safety of care, and that midwives and maternity support workers are exhausted and burnt out.
Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director Midwife at the RCM, said: “This report lays out the significant challenges facing midwives and their colleagues and what needs to be done to turn this situation around. The NHS workforce plan is a start and an opportunity to really make a difference. It has the potential to alleviate the incredible strain on midwives, maternity support workers and their colleagues.
“The Government has promised much with the plan and we will be watching to make sure they honour those promises. Working partnership – the profession and policy-makers - we can make things better. Women and maternity staff deserve nothing less than total commitment from the Government to once and for all end this crisis. This means giving maternity services the resources needed now, and long into the future.”
More complex needs, including rising levels of obesity in pregnancy and increases in the number of older women having babies, are increasing demands on maternity services says the report. Coupled with a rising birthrate which leapt by 11,000 between 2020-2021, this means midwifery staffing levels have not kept pace with demands and this is hitting the quality and safety of care.
There have been increases in the number of student midwives over recent years but the potential positive impact of this is undermined by too many experienced midwives leaving. Since the last election the midwifery workforce rose by an average of less than 100 per year, not enough to put a dent in the ongoing shortage. A renewed focus on retaining staff is needed and this is being addressed with retention a key element of the NHS workforce long-term plan. This can be supported through initiatives such as more flexible working, better support for learning and development and tackling poor workplace cultures says the RCM.
To contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email [email protected].
Notes to Editor
The full RCM England State of Maternity Services report can be read at https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/6915/england-soms-2023.pdf (live from 00.01 12 July 2023).
- The NHS workforce in England rose by 14.1% between December 2019 and March 2023, up almost 160,000 full time equivalent (FTE) staff. Yet the number of midwives rose just 1.1%, with only 247 additional midwives over the same period. If midwifery had had the same boost as the rest of the workforce, England’s NHS would have had the equivalent of more than an extra 3,100 full-time midwives.
- In 2011, just under half of pregnant women were aged 30 or older. In 2021, it was three in every five.
- Between November 2017 and November 2022, the proportion of women recorded as having a BMI in the healthy range fell from 40% to 36% over those five years. At the same time, the proportion recorded as obese rose from 18% to 25%, one in four women.
- RCM welcomes new NHS England workforce plan - reserves judgment until Government makes its plans for investment clear
- Midwives give 100,000 hours of free labour to the NHS per week to keep England’s maternity services safe says RCM
- RCM warns of worsening maternity crisis as senior midwife survey shows services at boiling point
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.