As a boom in the birth rate takes place across the UK, the NHS in England finds itself short of 5,000 midwives, a conference has heard.
Most midwives working in England find themselves working more than the hours they are contracted for, according to Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives. Delegates at the college’s annual conference in Brighton were told that it is vital the number of midwives in training are being matched with the actual amount of jobs on offer. She said many newly qualified midwives were not securing a post at the end of their training courses, which she said was simply a waste of money for the taxpayer as well as good talent and endeavour being squandered.
Ms Warwick said: “And it’s not because we don’t need these newly qualified midwives. The birth rate continues to rise, care is more complex and retirement beckons for many experienced midwives. The RCM appreciates that we do have more midwives but would still argue that the NHS in England is short of 5,000 full-time midwives. We simply must match the midwives in training with jobs. Five thousand midwives in training are superb. But much better would be 5,000 more actual midwives - actual midwives who can deliver all those excellent pledges and plans that are being made.”
Ms Warwick hailed midwives as “the backbone not only of a quality maternity service, but of a quality NHS, who can ensure a good positive start to people’s lives as parents”. Although she acknowledged that economic times were tough, the RCM believes spending more on midwifery would help deliver change and a better quality of life.
She added: “RCM will continue to lobby but I also want to say to the government that this is not just a selfish call for more. This call is being made by midwives who love their work and want to do it well. We are pragmatic. We know times are tough and that in harsh economic times there is a fear that spending more money does not always deliver change. In our case, however, it will.”
Ms Warwick said an RCM survey had shown that 87% of midwives frequently or always worked more than their contracted hours, and more than 50% of these said none of these hours were paid. More than four fifths of midwives were not satisfied with the quality of care they brought to the NHS, and under a third said they would recommend their career to anyone considering it.
Junior health minister Dan Poulter, a former obstetrician, said when he worked in the NHS nearly every unit he encountered had a shortage of midwives, but that the government was committed to boosting their numbers. Dr Poulter said £25 million will be invested this year in improving birthing environments, and maternity services will be able to apply to a new fund to make improvements.