More than half of midwifery chiefs believe their services are too stretched to support the rise in student midwives promised by the government, a new survey has revealed.
Last year, then health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a 25% expansion in midwifery training places in England over four years equating to 3,000 additional students.
“We need to see the government deliver and deliver quickly on their commitments”
However, 56% of heads of midwifery reported that they would not be able to increase the number of student placements in their unit above their current level.
The figure was revealed by the Royal College of Midwives today as it published the results of its latest survey of midwifery leaders in the UK.
The findings also showed rising concerns among top midwives about staffing shortages.
Almost half (48%) of those who responded to the 2018 annual survey said they did not have the funding for the right numbers of staff to meet the demands on services – compared to 32% the previous year.
In addition, more than three quarters (79%) said they had vacancies in their unit; in 2017 it was 76%.
Of the midwifery chiefs who were quizzed, 65% reported having to rely on bank and agency staff very often or fairly often.
At the same time, nearly every respondent (96%) said their units were dealing with more complex cases than the previous year.
“High quality placements are an essential part of nursing and midwifery training”
One head of midwifery said: “We are seeing an increase with diabetics, both gestational and pre-existing, also ladies that previously would have not gotten pregnant due to complexities impacting on fertility.”
The results also showed that 40% of respondents said they had to close their unit for a temporary period in 2018, while 89% reported having to redeploy staff very often or fairly often – up from 76% in 2017.
A third (33%) of heads of midwifery said the redeployment of on-call community staff to cover labour and delivery suite restricted the home birth service.
The heads of midwifery who filled in the survey also reported concerns about not having certain specialist midwives on their teams.
Two thirds (69%) said they did not have a smoking cessation specialist midwife and nearly half (44%) reported not having a consultant midwife.
In addition, 67% reported not having a female genital mutilation (FGM) specialist midwife and 41% said they did not have access to a substance misuse specialist midwife.
Commenting on the survey, Gill Walton, chief executive and general secretary of the RCM, said: “These are the people running our maternity services and what they say really matters.”
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Ms Walton said those at the RCM “applaud” the promise of midwives, but stressed that solutions to the current issues needed to be found.
“What is important now is that we get the resources the service needs as quickly as possible,” she said. “We need to see the government deliver and deliver quickly on their commitments and promises.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “High quality placements are an essential part of nursing and midwifery training, and NHS Improvement and Health Education England are working with NHS trusts to ensure trusts can make these places available.
“We are focused on improving midwives’ working lives by giving them a significant pay rise, listening to the issues that matter to them and training 25% more midwives,” she added.
The spokeswoman highlighted that there were nearly 2,500 more midwives in the NHS now than there were in 2010.
The government has committed to funding an additional an additional 650 midwife training places in 2019 and 1,000 extra places a year in the subsequent three years.