Midwives on the register doesn’t mean midwives in post, says RCM

on 30 November 2023 RCM Maternity Services Midwifery Government NHS NHS England NMC - Nursing and Midwifery Council Midwives Midwifery Workforce

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned the Government that now is not the time for complacency in tackling the chronic shortage of midwives in England. While new figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show more midwives on the register, the RCM says this is failing to translate into more midwives working in the NHS.

Hospitals in England have a shortage of 2,500 midwives, according to RCM estimates, with understaffing placing unacceptable levels of pressure on staff and comprising the safety and quality of care women are receiving.

The College says questions must be answered by the Government as to why there are all these extra midwives on the register, who are able to work as midwives, but not actually doing so.

Commenting, RCM’s Head of Health and Social Policy, Sean O’ Sullivan says;

“While it’s positive to see the number of people trained and registered as midwives is rising, this is not the same as the number of midwives working in the NHS. Also, despite our universities producing thousands of midwives since the last election, the number of midwives in post in the NHS is essentially static and this latest report from the NMC confirms that. Let’s be clear: 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 3,500 more midwives in the NHS, rather than having a shortfall of 2,500 full-time midwives.

“If the Government is to realise its ambition of making UK maternity services the safest in the world, that ambition must include safe levels of staffing. Solve the shortage and value midwives so they don’t want to leave. Because when they leave, they take years of experience with them that can’t then be passed on to newly qualified midwives joining the workforce.”

The RCM says fundamentally it’s about making the NHS a place people want to work and valued, well rested and better cared for staff can provide better levels of care to women and their babies. Too often staffing shortages, mean women aren’t receiving the high-quality care midwives can and want to deliver as they are spread too thinly. Also, the rise in more complex pregnancies, which may place women and babies at higher risk of complications, means pregnant women often require more care and need more time with midwives so any issues can be picked up.

Sean added:

“The RCM has said time and time again that in order to improve recruitment and retention of midwives the NHS must ensure staff are treated fairly and not over worked to the point of burn out. The NHS can no longer rely on the goodwill of midwives to plug the staffing gaps. Flexible working is also key, allowing staff to have some flexibility over shift patterns and hours they can work can make a huge difference to peoples working lives. Pay can’t be overlooked either, years of pay stagnation and below inflation pay rises mean some midwives have had enough. Our members constantly tell us, that static NHS pay, and a lack of flexible working are some of the main reasons why they have left they have left the service or are considering leaving midwifery.”



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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