'Swift action' must be taken to ensure that enough new midwives are entering the profession to balance out the ageing workforce, the Royal College of Midwives has said.
In its fifth annual survey of the midwifery workforce, the RCM revealed that one in three midwives in England are 50 or older.
In Wales, one in three midwives (35%) are now in their 50s or 60s and in Northern Ireland it is two in every five. In Scotland midwives and maternity care assistants are grouped as one profession but two in every five in this combined group are now aged 50 or older.
In both Scotland and England, the number of midwives under 50 has fallen. The RCM has raised concerns that not enough students are coming into the workforce to balance this out.
Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the RCM, emphasised that 'these midwives are making a real, positive difference to the lives of women and families every day. But we need to train and recruit their replacements now, well ahead of such a big chunk of the workforce reaching retirement age'.
The RCM's director for Wales, Helen Rogers agreed. 'While Wales has maintained a steady number of training places for student midwives over the past number of years, the number of places must be increased as matter of urgency. The RCM believes that we cannot deliver services if they remain at the current level,' she added.
Despite this large shortage in younger midwives, in the 12 months between September 2015 and 2016, the NHS midwifery workforce in England rose by just 104.
'When England is commissioning training places for around 2500 student midwives each year, it is a problem if the workforce is increasing by only around 100,' the report stated.