Hospital chiefs have been accused of “burying their heads in the sand” over midwife shortages, after figures suggested a quarter of NHS trusts had not assessed their workforce needs for at least four years.
The Royal College of Midwives said senior staff were avoiding doing the calculation, because they knew they could not afford to plug any gaps it would expose.
Of 99 trusts that responded to a Freedom of Information request, 24.2% had made no assessment in the past four years, 66.7% in the last two and 9% had not done so for at least a decade.
The figures, compiled by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, showed that 80% still had vacancies in funded midwife positions − though the rate was now at its lowest for three years.
“This is a recipe for disaster and can have a disastrous impact on staff morale, burn out and sickness rates, which only make a maternity service even more short-staffed”
Births in England have increased by a quarter in the last decade, according to recent official statistics.
In the 99 trusts there were a total of 561 vacancies at the turn of the year − ranging from a 17.8% vacancy rate at West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust to the fully-staffed Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust.
|Midwife Vacancies in NHS Trusts in England||Jan 14||July 13||Jan 13||July 12||Jan 12||July 11||Jan 11|
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “It is worrying that a quarter of NHS trusts have not conducted any kind of assessment of the number of midwives they need to employ for more than five years − some have not done so for more than a decade.
“Meanwhile, the number of births is booming − 2012 saw more births than any year since 1971. And, even then, four in every five NHS trusts say they have midwife vacancies, a situation that we feel is getting worse, not better. This has to change,” she said.
“The pressure on maternity units becomes worse when there is a mix of insufficient midwives to begin with. On top of this, midwifery vacancies are not being filled,” she said.
“This is a recipe for disaster and can have a disastrous impact on staff morale, burn out and sickness rates, which only make a maternity service even more short-staffed.”
Professor Warwick added: “We hear from some heads of midwifery that trusts are not conducting proper assessments of staffing requirements because they know they won’t be able to afford to implement the findings – so they bury their heads in the sand and stick with their out-of-date assessments that no longer bear relation to their needs and the needs of mothers and babies.
“Our assessment is that we need around 4,800 more midwives in England. The government is increasing the number of midwives, and that is welcome, but much more needs to be done.”
In response, health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “The NHS is a safe place to give birth, with women reporting high levels of trust and confidence in staff.
“Latest figures show that there are almost 22,000 qualified midwives working in England and there are a record number of 6,000 midwives in training.”
- Listen to the Woman’s Hour Midwives Special – live from the Liverpool Women’s Hospital