England short of almost 2,500 midwives, new birth figures confirm

By Stuart Bonar - RCM Public Affairs Advisor on 13 August 2019 Midwives NHS England

The national midwife shortage continues, with the NHS in England short of the equivalent of almost 2,500 full-time midwives. That is according to the latest RCM analysis of birth figures published earlier this month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Each summer the ONS releases official statistics on the number of births that took place nationwide the previous year. On the day they do this, the RCM uses those figures to make an assessment of the how many midwives the NHS in England needs and compares this to the number actually in post.

Official birth figures for 2018 were published on 1 August, revealing that there were 628,171 live births and stillbirths in England last year. We took this figure, estimated the number of births that took place in different settings, and applied different births-per-midwife ratios for each. We then made adjustments to account for the contribution that maternity support workers make and for the extra staff needed for managerial and specialist roles, giving us an estimate of the total number of midwives the country needs. We finished by comparing this figure with the number of midwives who are actually in post, using official workforce figures from NHS Digital.

The birth figures also underlined the growing role that complexity is making in the demands on our maternity services. The average age of a woman giving birth last year, for example, was 30.6 years, the highest since records began before the War.

The RCM will continue to lobby, as it has done for many years, to drive down this shortage. Only last year, the RCM secured a commitment from the Government to train 3,000 more midwives in England over the next three years, and hundreds of extra student midwives begin their training in the coming weeks. We will be pressing for action to ensure those extra midwifery students become, in time, the extra midwives our NHS desperately needs.