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High birthrate and retiring midwives raises fears for maternity staffing in Northern Ireland

6 February, 2017

High birthrate and retiring midwives raises fears for maternity staffing in Northern Ireland

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More births to older women and an ageing midwifery workforce spell problems for the future of Northern Ireland’s maternity services. This is the message from the  Royal College of Midwives (RCM) launching its annual UK State of Maternity Services Report today.

The RCM’s annual ‘State of Maternity Services Report’ brings together information about maternity services in all four UK countries. It also highlights the pressures on maternity services in each country.

An increase in births to older women is one of the key issues facing services. Births in Northern Ireland were up almost 3,000 between 2000 and 2015 for women in their thirties, and up almost 450 for women in their forties. Women who give birth later may need more care from the NHS, though this will not be the case for every woman in that category, but it will be true on average.

The RCM’s concern is that services are under so much pressure that midwives and their colleagues struggle to provide the level of care and support these women may need and deserve.

Births also remain historically high. Whilst the birthrate has flattened in the last few years the number of births in Northern Ireland was still 13% higher in 2015 than it was in 2000. It remains at a level of a few thousand up on what it was at the turn of the century. Again, this is putting significant pressure on Northern Ireland’s maternity services.

The rise since 2000 is most marked in the Southern Health and  Social Care Trust area. Births there are up almost a third (1,300) since the year 2000.

Another worrying development is the increase in the age of the midwifery workforce.  Put simply there are more older midwives nearing retirement age.  For midwives in their fifties or sixties, Northern Ireland, along with Scotland, has the highest rates in the UK. Two in every five (40%) is in this age group.

It is worrying that the age bands that form the largest components of the midwifery workforce are 50 to 54 and 55 to 59. Together they constitute over a third of the workforce, with those in their sixties making up a further 5%. Those aged 55 or older, who could be close to retirement make up one in five midwives in Northern Ireland.

These older midwives represent a big chunk of the midwifery workforce and will need to be replaced very soon. There is a pressing need to train and employ more midwives, before many of the existing highly experienced midwifery workforce reach retirement age. This needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency to ensure Northern Ireland does not face the midwifery shortages affecting England.

Mary Caddell, Royal College of Midwives, Regional Officer for Northern Ireland, said: “There is a rertirment bulge in our midwifery workforce moving rapidly towards us. We need to see the Norethern Ireland Government planning to offset this. If this is not done we will see midwifery shortages and this will have an impact on the safety and quality of our maternity services.

“Births are also more complex because of the rise in older mothers but also because of other issues such as rising levels of obesity and ill health. All of this exerts pressure on services and requires more of midwives’ time. We need to ensure that we have the right numbers of staff to dleiver the best possible care.”

The full State of Maternity Services Report report can be found on the RCM website at https://www.rcm.org.uk/briefings-and-reports. The report will be live from 22.00 on Monday, 6th February 2017. Email the RCM press office for a copy of the report before this time/date.

To contact the RCM Press Office call 020 7312 3456 or email pressofficer@rcm.org.uk.


Notes to editors

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/.

Information on statistics used in the report

Live births, Live births by Health and Social Care Trust area & Age profile of mothers (p16-17)

All this information is available from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency: http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/default.asp8.htm

Midwives & Age profile of midwives (p17-18)

Stats published by the Northern Ireland Department of Health in an annual census, as at March each year. 2016’s numbers are at https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-health-and-social-care-hsc-workforce-census-march-2016 with previous years’ figures in separate censuses.

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