Sarah-Jane Marsh, chair of the maternity transformation programme at NHS England, said earlier this week that the country currently lacked “sufficient midwives for the job”.
Ms Marsh, who is also chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, gave the acknowledgement at a conference on Thursday.
“I don’t think we’ve got sufficient midwives, I don’t think we’ve trained enough midwives”
During a presentation on progress on implementing the Better Births strategy, she said: “We have recognised that we simply do not have enough midwives for the job we are trying to do and that’s more acute particularly in some areas of the country.
“I don’t think we’ve got sufficient midwives, I don’t think we’ve trained enough midwives,” she told delegates at the event organised by the Westminster Health Forum.
Referring to the government, she added: “We’ve made that point and I think that it’s been accepted, and now we need to work through how we do those increases.”
Ms Marsh said she had been working closely with Health Education England and health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt on the issue and hinted that an announcement could be made shortly.
Recognition that more midwives were needed was welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives, which has calculated that there is a shortage of 3,500 midwives across the UK.
Suzanne Tyler, director for services to members at the RCM, said: “I am really pleased that the shortage of midwives has now officially been recognised and at such a senior level.
“Every day maternity units up and down the country are struggling to maintain safe and high quality services for women,” she said. “Their aspirations to be even better are seriously curtailed by the lack of staff.
“That maternity units remain safe is down to the hard work of midwives and maternity support workers many regularly working long beyond their shift. I am pleased that the voices of midwives and women about the need to increase staffing have been heard,” she said.
She added: “The RCM looks forward to more news about how this shortage is going to be addressed. We are totally supportive of Better Births and are relieved that our calls for the right number of staff to do the job have been heard.”
The Better Births report from the independent national maternity review, published in 2016, set out seven overarching themes plus a range of recommendations designed to improve care in England.
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Ms Marsh also highlighted where progress had been made in achieving some of the strategy’s recommendations, such as on personal maternity budgets for women to manage their care. She said an announcement would be made shortly that the 10,000 target personal maternity care budgets had been achieved.
More generally, she added: “I really feel we are making huge progress and in a couple of years’ time we will see genuine transformation right across the country in our maternity care.”