The Royal College of Midwives has said the government is still falling short of its commitment to increase numbers, despite evidence of some growth.
However, the small rise in midwives contrasts with a continued fall in the number of nurses and health visitors in the NHS.
Health minister Simon Burns highlighted official workforce statistics this week, which show there are 896 more midwives in the NHS than in May 2010, when the government came to power, or a 4% increase.
But they also show there are 3,261 fewer full time equivalent nurses – a 1% fall since May 2010. The number of health visitors has dropped by 27 – less than 1% of the May 2010 workforce – despite a commitment to increase numbers.
The number of health service managers has dropped steeply.
Mr Burns said: “It makes a huge difference to patients that there are now more midwives working in the NHS than ever before. This wouldn’t be possible without the extra £12.5bn we are investing in the NHS.”
However, the Royal College of Midwives responded by saying that the increase fell short of the Conservatives’ pre-election pledge to increase midwife numbers by 3,000. The college pointed out that, in 2010, research showed the NHS was short of 4,700 midwife posts.
RCM deputy general secretary Louise Silverton said: “The numbers of midwives may well be up – that’s thanks to NHS trusts responding to both the rising number and the increasing complexity of births.
“This is happening not because of, but despite, the prime minister’s callously ditching of his personal, pre-election pledge to recruit an extra 3,000 NHS midwives in England.”
“We will need to wait for the official 2011 birth figures to come out to get a more up-to-date assessment of the current situation. If births are rising faster than midwife numbers then, regardless of this rise, the shortage of midwives will be getting worse, not better.
“If the number of midwives is rising faster than births then that’ll be good news, but the government shouldn’t be counting its chickens before they are hatched.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Peter Carter said:“These alarming figures expose the myth that numbers of nurses are rising. They also reveal that the pressure to save £20bn in the NHS in England is hitting the front line - something we have long been saying through our ‘Frontline First’ campaign.”