MPs call for urgent action to address staffing and retention

By Lydia O'Neill Midwifery Midwives RCM Member MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Midwife Shortage NHS Unions

Last night Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie called for urgent action to address working conditions, staffing shortfalls and retention among midwives and MSWs in England.

In a House of Commons debate, Ms Baillie referenced the RCM’s survey findings that 57% of midwives are considering leaving the NHS. She also shared the year-on-year falls in midwife numbers as well as the “mental anguish” that the impact of staffing shortages has had on existing staff.

“I think what we will hear from the Government is that there is a plan for recruitment, but we need more details. The RCM is certainly asking questions,” said Baillie in her address. She told the Commons that last year “the NHS was short of the equivalent of 1,932 full-time midwives – but since then, sadly, the number has fallen by a further 222, leaving the shortage at over 2,000”. Baillie said we need to plan to recruit 1200 midwives and train an additional 3,650 students to make up for the staffing levels.

She added: “To put this into perspective, there were more than 613,000 births in England and Wales in 2020. At the last count of midwives in 2021, there were 26,901 in England, but that drops to 22,301 if we look at part-time figures. By looking at the birth rate and the number of midwives, we can see just how stretched midwives are.”

On working conditions, Baillie shared further RCM survey results and the anonymous blog published by the RCM to support the call for more to be done for midwives’ health, safety and wellbeing. Not being able to take bathroom breaks, skipping meals, experiencing bullying and being dehydrated at work – “no doubt telling women to hydrate while unable to do so themselves”.  

Chair of the House of Commons Health & Social Care Select Committee, and former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said extra midwives are needed to identify high-risk pregnancies and continuity of carer is “an incredibly effective way to do that”. Baillie agreed but said “that can be achieved in many hospitals and many midwife teams only if we have the staffing”.

When addressing the pressures of the pandemic, Baillie asked that the Government consider the knock-on impact the plans for mandatory COVID vaccination will have on existing midwives. She said: “The vaccine mandate continues to cause concern, and the potential loss of more staff is adding to the pressure-cooker effect.”

Siobhan Baillie’s call for urgent action was repeated by DUP MP Jim Shannon, who quoted the RCM survey, and Labour’s Rachael Maskell, who called for a proper workforce plan. Middlesbrough MP Peter Gibson focused on the need for better recruitment and retention, while Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities, Taiwo Owatemi, echoed Ms Baillie’s comments on the decline on midwives, the number of midwives registered in 2019 compared to today and the poor working conditions that face midwives and MSWs today.