There is already a ‘marked variation’ in the number of midwife supervisors across the UK, the regulator said in its annual analysis of reports from Local Supervising Authorities (LSAs) for midwives, published last week.
But the situation is set to be made worse by an increasing number of supervisors approaching retirement coupled with a reduction in the numbers of midwives volunteering for the role, the NMC said.
It recommends that supervisors of NHS midwives are each responsible for a maximum of 15 midwives but the 2007-2008 figures show that this standard was not in 12 of the 29 LSAs. The highest ratio was one supervisor of midwives to every 21 midwives in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland.
NMC president Jill Crawford said the regulator would be alerting PCTs and strategic health authorities to the problem. ‘The supervision of midwives is an important tool in ensuring the safety of children and babies using maternity services,’ she said.
At present supervisors of midwives are usually rewarded for taking on the role either financially or with extra holiday – however in some cases they are offered no extra incentives.
Professor Paul Lewis, chairperson of the NMC’s midwifery committee, also noted that the role was ‘challenging’. He said: ‘The extra demands placed on them may deter midwives from taking on that role as it carries considerable extra responsibility.’
RCM president Cathy Warwick: ‘The supervision of midwives is an incredibly important function of the provision of maternity services – midwives need people to go to when situations become difficult and complex.’