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Dip in births is ‘opportunity to fix midwife shortage’

A dip in births following an 11-year boom must be seized upon by ministers if England’s long-running midwife shortage is to come to an end, it has been claimed.

Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), believes the current situation represents the perfect opportunity to relieve some of the pressure on maternity services across the country.

There were almost 700,000 babies born in 2012, the highest level for four decades and up 23% compared with the 2001 total.

Births in London led the way during this time, with a staggering 29% jump over the course of the 11-year period.

However, the figures for the first six months of 2013 show a drop of 18,000 on last year’s record-breaking high.

“We are at a crossroads. The government and the NHS must continue to train and recruit more midwives and, if the number of births stops rising, we might be able to reduce and perhaps even eventually eliminate the shortage,” said Professor Warwick.

“Alternatively, if the government and the NHS choose to exploit what may be a temporary dip in the number of births and slash spending on midwife training and recruitment, they risk permanently embedding the midwife shortage.”

The RCM is currently preparing to launch its State of Maternity Services report 2013, in which it highlights the growing complexity among the midwifery workload. For example, births to older mothers continue to rise far faster than for other age groups.

There was an 85% rise between 2001 and 2012 in babies born to women in England aged between 40 and 44, individuals who typically require more care and time from midwives. This means that more midwives are needed overall even if birth numbers are no longer rising.

“Right now, we are still thousands of midwives short of where we need to be, as last month’s National Audit Office report on maternity services found,” added Professor Warwick.

“This is a moment of opportunity. Will it be seized and the midwife shortage brought right down, or will the government and the NHS take their eye off the ball in the face of a small easing of the intense pressure on our maternity services?”

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