More than a third of midwives in Scotland are aged over 50, while the number of students choosing midwifery courses looks unlikely to keep pace with retirements.
Latest figures show that 1,074 midwives in Scotland are aged 51 or over, while a further 923 are in the 41-50 age bracket and just 342 are aged under 30.
The figures, from the Scottish government’s Information Services Division, represent a snapshot of the latest workforce data available as of 30 June.
“We know that we are facing the prospect of major staff shortages across our NHS”
Further information from the division shows that the number of students completing midwifery courses over the last seven years has remained largely flat, though there was a small spike in 2013.
However, the figures only covered the period 2007-13. In February this year, the Scottish government said it had approved a 3% rise in both trainee midwives and nurses for 2015-16.
|Whole-time equivalent midwifery staff by age group|
|Age group||30 and under||31-40||41-50||51 and Over||Total|
The figures were requested by the Scottish Liberal Democrats in a parliamentary question to health secretary Shona Robison.
The party’s health spokesman Jim Hume warned that NHS Scotland was facing a “recruitment timebomb” in midwife services.
“As more midwives retire, the pressure on remaining staff can only increase,” he said. “The challenge we face in protecting services is substantial.
“This is not about new parents expecting their first child this Christmas – it is about protecting the long-term future of these vital services,” he added.
Both the Liberal Democrats and the government went on to name-check the Royal College of Midwives.
Mr Hume said the RCM had “already sounded the alarm over the recruitment timebomb Scotland is facing” and called on ministers to act by ensuring “sufficient students had the opportunity” to study midwifery.
“We are working in partnership with the RCM to gather intelligence on our midwifery workforce profile”
Meanwhile, in her response, Ms Robison quoted an RCM report, published last month, which claimed that Scotland’s midwifery record was the envy of midwives in England.
She said: “As at June 2015, there are 54.9 – 1.8% – vacant posts in midwifery across NHS Scotland. A small vacancy rates allows for staff development and prevents stagnation. Meanwhile, agency nursing and midwifery costs have reduced by 13% since 2007.”
She added that the government was working in partnership with the college to gather intelligence on “our midwifery workforce profile… to ensure we have the right numbers of midwives in training and in the workforce”.
She also noted that, in a move unique within the UK, every new qualified midwife in Scotland was guaranteed one year of employment once they complete their studies.
|Midwifery students course commencement and completion|