Government promises more midwives

By Julie Griffiths on 26 March 2018 Midwife Shortage Secretary of State for Health

The health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a range of measures for England’s maternity services, including a plan to train more than 3000 extra midwives over four years.

The plan begins with 650 more midwives in training next year, a new defined MSW role and introducing new training routes into midwifery.

The government is also promising that the majority of women will receive care from the same midwives throughout their pregnancy, labour and birth by 2021.

The plans are part of Jeremy Hunt’s drive to make the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth.

He is due to speak at the ‘Maternity Transformation Programme: 2 Years On’ event tomorrow (27 March), and is expected to announce that steps towards achieving this ambition will start with 20% of women benefitting from a continuity of carer model by March 2019.

The government will be working with key partners such as the RCM to develop new training routes into midwifery, so that talented support workers can develop and move quickly to become registered midwives and help the midwifery profession attract and retain talented staff.

RCM chief executive Gill Walton said that the announcement is a ‘very long overdue’ acknowledgement by the government that England’s maternity services need more midwives. She highlighted how the RCM has been campaigning to get successive governments to eradicate the midwife shortage for well over a decade.

‘This is recognition that this government has been listening to us,’ Gill said.

She added: ‘It will come as some relief to NHS midwives who have been working incredibly hard, for many years, with increasing demands and inadequate resources. This is the start of a journey that will enable midwives to begin moving to more innovative ways of caring for women. It is also a positive step towards safer services.

Gill said that the commitment to more continuity of care is good news because the evidence is clear that this is the best way to provide the safest and highest quality care for women and their babies.

‘The priority for all maternity services is ensuring every woman has a named midwife during pregnancy and one-to-one care in labour. This is what maternity services are currently struggling to provide universally and consistently and this is why the new staff will be so crucial. When services are confident of this then they can move on to greater continuity of care for women,’ she added.

‘While we welcome the commitment to continuity of care, it is ambitious. The additional midwives who start training next year won't be qualified midwives working in our maternity services until 2022. That will make a difference and it will begin to have an impact on the workload of midwives, but it will not transform maternity services right now. It will take seven or eight years before all of the new midwives announced today will be actually working in our maternity services. This will be offset to some extent by the extra MSWs promised. This will help make the staffing overall feel better, though we need to see details about how many more MSWs there will be.’

Gill stated that simply training more midwives is only half of the problem. The other key issue is ensuring that when these midwives qualify they actually get jobs in the NHS.

‘We must get a commitment from the government and trusts to employ them. Trusts are going to need an increase in the money they get so they can employ the new midwives,’ she said.

‘The recognition of the importance of MSWs and the commitment to invest in their training is also very good news. Again this is something the RCM has been fighting for and working towards for many years.

‘We applaud the announcement but would urge some patience. Until these midwives and MSWs are actually working, maternity services will continue struggling to provide existing care where the focus is rightly safety first,’ said Gill.

She added that midwives everywhere could now be confident that the government is serious about supporting maternity care, if these midwives are trained in the numbers announced. And, if they get real jobs in our NHS then there's every reason to believe we’ll see the transformation of England’s maternity services in the coming years: ‘We look forward to working with the government to make this very, very welcome commitment a reality.

‘The agreement on pay reached this week between the health unions and the government will also help to support this announcement. It will help our maternity services to retain the midwives they have and it will aid the recruitment of more into the profession.’