Cutbacks are hitting maternity services across the country just as the decade-long baby boom is starting to take off again, according to the Royal College of Midwives.
New birth figures for the first quarter of this year reveal that 4,600 more babies were born in England in January to March than in the same period last year.
These figures suggest that more than 700,000 babies will be born in England this year, which will be the highest number of any year since 1971. Rises were also recorded in Scotland and Wales.
“The baby boom is restarting with renewed vigour,” said RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick.
“We are already at birth numbers that haven’t been seen for at least a couple of generations, probably not in the working life of any midwife practising today. Today’s midwives simply have never seen anything like it. The demand this is placing on the NHS is enormous.”
“Even before this most recent rise, the growing number of births was outpacing the recent growth in midwife numbers. The average number of births per midwife, for example, has worsened in the North West, the West Midlands, London, and the South West, as well as across England as a whole.
“Our calculation is that England is short of 5,000 full-time equivalent midwives (FTE), and that Wales is short of over 150 FTE midwives. Scotland and Northern Ireland are not short of midwives currently, but their ageing workforces mean that they do need to keep recruiting new midwives to avoid the emergence of a retirement time-bomb.
A survey of midwives across the UK found that 19 out of every 20 midwives reported that in the last 12 months staff shortages had occurred “frequently” or “sometimes”.
As a result, 87 per cent of midwives responding to the same survey said they “frequently” or “always” worked more than their contracted hours.
At the same time, more than a quarter of UK heads of midwifery report that their budget has been cut in the last 12 months.
Job prospects for newly-qualified midwives are increasingly bleak, too. The findings of a survey of newly-qualified midwives reveal that a third of new midwives who have started looking for work have not found a job as a midwife. Of these, almost a half have been looking for more than three months and only a third feel optimistic about their chances of finding work in the sector.
Cathy Warwick said: “What is so frustrating is that there is a clear need for more midwives. We have record-breaking birth figures, and we need all the midwives we can get. We’re training midwives, but we’re not recruiting them. That is a sad waste of all their time and effort, and a waste of taxpayers’ money too.
“ We have to stop throwing away the talents of these young midwives and recruit them into the service. They are needed, and it’s an utterly false economy not to bring them into the NHS.”