Midwife number slumps
Something deeply concerning is happening to the midwifery workforce in England’s NHS, and it is not something we have seen before. For the first time since records began, the number of midwives is falling year-on-year.
The most up-to-date figures – for November 2021 – show that there were the equivalent of 22,391 full-time midwives working in the NHS in England. This was down a colossal 331 compared to November 2020.
This year-on-year slump in midwife numbers first showed up in July last year, and we have seen it repeated every month since. November’s drop (-331) is however the worst so far.
We have monthly workforce figures going back to 2009, before the Conservatives won a parliamentary majority, before the Coalition, back to the time when Gordon Brown was in 10 Downing Street. At no time in all those years did we see a year-on-year drop, even once. Now we have had five in a row, with no sign this pattern will stop.
The big worry is that less than a year ago, last spring, the minister for maternity services, who was then Nadine Dorries MP, confirmed that the NHS in England was short of just under 2,000 full time equivalent midwives. But far from seeing that shortage get cut, we are now seeing these repeated drops in midwife numbers.
It is no wonder that midwives report being rushed off their feet, with sometimes no time even to get themselves a glass of water when they are thirsty.
This situation is bad and getting worse, and the Government needs to face up to this deepening crisis and get a grip.
One key way in which the Government could do just that would be to give midwives and other NHS staff a decent pay rise this year. Energy bills are going through the roof, inflation is expected to top 7 per cent this year, and Britain is facing the biggest squeeze in living standards on record.
Unless the Government wants this to worsen still further, it simply must give midwives – as well as their maternity support worker and other NHS colleagues – the decent pay rise they all deserve.