The government has confirmed it has not set a target to increase midwife numbers by 3,000, despite a promise to do so by prime minister David Cameron in the run up to the election last year.
The Department of Health told Nursing Times there were a “record” 2,493 midwives in training this year but said it has yet to decide how many would need to be recruited and trained in total to make up the current shortfall.
A DH spokeswoman said: “We do need more midwives, but, rather than picking random numbers, our policy will be based on evidence. The government is committed to training the numbers of midwives we need to meet the demands arising from the birth rate.”
The DH’s clarification to Nursing Times follows confusion over apparently conflicting statements by health secretary Andrew Lansley and the NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson.
Sir David told the Commons public accounts committee on 18 January that the NHS had too few midwives, and put the shortage at 4,500 - a statement welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives.
RCM general secretary Cathy Warwick said: “Our analysis is that the NHS chief executive is exactly right about the deep and profound shortage of midwives.”
However, a week later, on 25 January, Mr Lansley told the Commons: “I do not wish to embarrass the chief executive of the NHS but actually, he told me he made an error - he was referring to health visitors, not midwives.”
But Labour shadow health minister Diane Abbott said Mr Lansley was “clearly trying to cover up David Cameron’s broken promise to increase the number of midwives by 3,000”.
She added: “What else are they covering up about their plans for our health system in this country? I call on Mr Lansley to clarify his position, and whether or not the House [of Commons] has been misled.”
Writing in The Sun in January last year, Mr Cameron said: “We are going to make our midwives’ lives a lot easier… we will increase the number of midwives by 3,000.”
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