England needs 2600 more midwives to be able to cope with the projected annual number of births, according to the latest State of Maternity report by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
One of the key areas highlighted by the report was the increase of midwives aged 50 or over. The number of midwives in this category rose by 3106 between 2005 and 2014 while midwives aged under 50 rose by just 66.
‘It is deeply frustrating for midwives that they cannot provide the quality of maternity care that they want to deliver because they are so short-staffed,’ said Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the RCM. ‘What worries me in particular is the retirement time bomb that our report unearths. Not only in England, but across the UK, we are not seeing enough new midwives being taken on.’
Ms Warwick suggested ‘protecting or expanding midwifery training numbers and, just as importantly, making sure newly qualified midwives get jobs in the NHS once they’ve qualified’ as a way to address the midwifery shortage.
The college also identified that this is a problem across the UK. In Scotland the number of older midwives rose from 32% in 2011 to 42% this year. In Northern Ireland between 2001 and 2015 the number of midwives under 50 fell by 224, while those aged over 50 rose by 342.
If a shortage did not exist the RCM said that midwives would be able to spend more time with women antenatally to help them with issues such as breastfeeding, smoking cessation and to spot signs of mental health problems.
A recent RCM survey of senior midwives found that community midwives are often having to provide cover for the acute sector due to the lack of midwives.
The respondents said that this not only restricted the availability of home birth services in all areas, but also impacted on breastfeeding rates, rates of infection and maternal mental health problems.