England’s long-standing midwife shortage will last into the mid-2020s, according to new figures.
The prediction comes, despite government promises to improve maternity care amid a persistent baby boom.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures this month revealed the highest number of births since 1972.
The Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) calculations suggest that the gap between the amount of midwives the NHS in England requires and the amount it now has will not be closed until 2026.
The shortfall is sure to force maternity units to close suddenly and result in some mothers receiving inadequate care before, during or after giving birth, some experts claim.
Chief executive of the parenting charity the National Childbirth Trust, Belinda Phipps, told The Guardian: “It’s extremely frustrating to think that we’ll have to wait 13 years before mothers are getting the level of support they need. A whole generation of mothers and babies will not get the support they need.”
She denounced the government for not taking maternity care more seriously.
Last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the NHS care regulator, warned that a seventh of the 141 hospital trusts in England that provide maternity services did not have sufficient midwives.
It said maternity care was emerging as a “problem area” for a number of NHS trusts.
This, it added, was due to midwife numbers not increasing in line with demand and an increase in complex births, owing to risk factors such as maternal age, weight and co-morbidity.
David Cameron expressed concern about NHS maternity unit staffing before the 2010 general election and pledged to recruit 3,000 more midwives.
But official NHS figures shows that the amount of qualified midwives in the NHS in England had only risen from 20,132 in May 2010 to 21,410 this April - a climb of only 1,278 in three years under the coalition.
The RCM’s chief executive, Cathy Warwick, welcomed the rise in midwives.
But she added that the NHS is still 4,501 below complement, based on the ideal ratio of one midwife for every 28 births in a year, a figure the Department of Health accepts.
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