Drop in midwife numbers accelerates

By Stuart Bonar, Public Affairs Advisor on 01 July 2022 NHS MSWs - Maternity Support Workers NHS Unions Trade Unions NHS Staff Midwife Shortage Midwifery

This week saw the publication of alarming new NHS workforce figures for England showing the drop in midwife numbers is not only continuing but accelerating, with the North of England worst affected.

The latest numbers, for April this year, show that the number of NHS midwives in England had slumped by over 600 compared to a year earlier.

The number was also down by hundreds compared to December 2019, when the last UK General Election was held. At that election, the Conservatives made a manifesto promise to make the NHS the best place in the world in which to give birth. We applaud that ambition, but it is made more difficult – if not impossible – by a shrinking midwifery workforce.

Falls were seen in every region of England, with biggest, deepest falls in the North. The smallest annual drop, just seven midwives, was seen in the East of England. That was the equivalent of a 0.2 per cent fall in the size of the workforce. But in the North East and Yorkshire, the drop was 181 midwives, or a 4.3 per cent drop in just 12 months. In the North West, the region with the second-largest fall, the NHS had 117 fewer midwives this year compared to the same time last year.

The NHS publishes these workforce figures every month, and they go back to 2009. Those numbers show that before summer last year, every month would see more midwives working in the NHS than a year earlier. The rise was not always large, sometimes it was small, but gradually, slowly the number of midwives was edging upwards.

Last summer however we saw a sudden reversal. The number of midwives was now lower than a year earlier. At first, this was only by a small number, a handful out of a workforce of well over 20,000. But since then the drop has grown, the slump accelerating. But these latest numbers – a fall of over 600 in just 12 months – is by far the biggest so far.

It is deeply worrying that not only is England’s NHS midwifery workforce shrinking, but that the slump is gathering pace.

It was in April last year that a health minister wrote to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee to give them the official estimate that the NHS in England was short of 2,000 midwives. These latest numbers now show that in the year since then the midwifery workforce has shrunk by over 600 midwives. The alarm bells should be ringing in government ministers’ ears.

One immediate action the Government could take would be to offer NHS staff, including midwives and maternity support workers, a decent pay rise, and certainly one that keeps pace with prices. Midwives should not be getting poorer because of decisions made by our elected politicians. Better pay will help to retain the midwives we have. There is a lot more they need to do, but that would be a good first step.

And one immediate action you can take to help with that is to contact your Member of Parliament and ask them to sign something called Early Day Motion 199. We have created a webpage to explain how you do that. Please do take a moment to ask your MP to do this.

We will continue to speak with politicians and lobby ministers to turn this situation around. We all want to see better, safer maternity services, and fundamental to delivering that is the NHS employing enough midwives.