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Just 1 extra midwife for every 30 trained - new report shows

Gill Walton
12 September, 2018

Just 1 extra midwife for every 30 trained - new report shows

Today marks the publication of State of Maternity Services Reports for England and Scotland

RCM director for Scotland Mary Ross-Davie is launching the Scottish report at Edinburgh Napier University, whilst I am launching the England report in Parliament at Westminster. The Wales and Northern Ireland reports will follow.

Each year, as we work our way through the numbers and statistics that feed into these reports, we unearth things that just jump out at us, links between numbers that we might not otherwise have spotted so easily.

This year, what jumped out at us was a comparison between two numbers, on which I am going to focus in this blog post.

In the most recent academic year for which we have figures, 2016/17, over 2,100 newly-qualified midwives graduated from university in England. In the preceding year, it was not as high but was still safely over 1,900. This number has jumped by half over this decade, which is a good news story.

And yet, if you look at the latest workforce numbers, released at the end of last month, the NHS midwifery workforce across England grew by the equivalent of just 67 full-time midwives over an entire year.

So, 2,100 graduates, but just 67 more midwives, which means we’re only seeing one extra midwife for around every 30 that we train.

And this isn’t because newly-qualified midwives don’t get work as midwives. The overwhelming majority do. What is happening is that all these new midwives enter the service in the autumn (and we see huge spikes in the size of the workforce at this time), but this surge is then virtually wiped out over the course of the rest of the year as large numbers of midwives retire or leave for other reasons. The taps are on but the plug is out.

Last spring, the Government promised an extra 3,000 midwifery training places, over and above those already planned. Those places start to appear in the system from this autumn. That should deliver a boost to graduate numbers a few years from now.

But we fear that if the current ratio of “train 30 new midwives to gain just one NHS midwife” is sustained then the net effect of these 3,000 extra students, even if they were all to qualify, may be to produce just an extra 100 midwives on the NHS frontline (that’s 3,000 divided by 30).

We need to see wider action to retain the midwives we have – including, for example, solid pay rises in future years. We may also need to see the increase in student numbers sustained over a longer period; 3,000 may not be enough.

This is just one highlight of England’s State of Maternity Services Report. There’s a lot more in there, and you can read the full report online here.

You can also read the blog post from our director for Scotland, Mary Ross-Davie, about the Scottish report here.

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This report is alarming" just one extra midwife for every 30 trained" published 11 September 2018. I took my NHS retirement 2 years ago and chose to return part- time which was not without it difficulties, I was made to jump through hoops. I have worked for the NHS as a nurse and now midwife for 40 yrs this November. I had completed approx 38 yrs when I retired at age 57, being in the "special class" pension group I was able to retire. However, my point is I know for a fact after talking to many of my colleagues who are in the same age group as myself and have recently retired or coming up to retirement would be more than happy to return on reduced hours if they weren't penalized financially like I am myself. Meaning your monthly pension is reduced, measured up against what you are earning ( you are not allowed to earn more than you were before while claiming pension). These valuable experienced and skilled midwives could continue to pass on their knowledge to less experienced midwives and help fill the void. Perhaps this is something the government should consider for this "special class" category age group who are still fit enough to work and stop financially punishing them as a temporary stop gap until the staffing levels improve . Many of these midwives choose to retire and never return due to sheer exhaustion and the lack of regard and respect for experience in this risk adverse environment we now work in. Perhaps respecting, supporting and valuing these midwives may encourage more of them to return part-time.