Jeremy Hunt has stated that maternity provision must be expanded and more midwives recruited in order to cope with growing demand for services.
The health secretary made the comments during health questions in the Commons on Tuesday.
“I would urge Mr Hunt to commit to meeting this shortage and eradicating it”
He was asked by Jenny Chapman, Labour MP for Darlington, about problems faced by women in accessing maternity services.
She said: “I can think of few things more frightening than being in labour and being turned away from a maternity unit that someone has visited, become familiar with, and got to know the staff.
“Over a third of units closed their doors to women in labour last year. What is the minister going to do about this, and why does he think it has been happening?” she asked.
In response, Mr Hunt said Ms Chapman was “absolutely right, we need more midwives”.
“We recruited more midwives in the previous parliament, and we do need to expand maternity provision as we have a growing birth rate,” he said.
“The honourable lady is absolutely right, we need more midwives”
He noted, however, that the national maternity review was currently ongoing in England, under the leadership of Baroness Julia Cumberlege.
He said its findings would be “coming up early next year” and that it would “help us to address this problem sustainably”.
A survey of senior midwives, published on Sunday by the Royal College of Midwives, suggested maternity services were facing widespread staffing shortages, with units temporarily closing and cuts to training.
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said the health secretary’s comments were “very welcome indeed”.
“The promise of more staff and expanded maternity provision will be good news for midwives and maternity services that are under enormous pressure to deliver safe, high quality care with often inadequate resources,” she said.
She claimed that England needed an extra 2,600 full-time midwives to deliver the best care to women, babies and their families.
“I would urge Mr Hunt to commit to meeting this shortage and eradicating it,” said Professor Warwick.
“I will be meeting the minister responsible for maternity services shortly and will be raising this with him,” she added.