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Worsening midwife shortage is 'recipe for disaster', warns RCM


Hospital chiefs have been accused of “burying their heads in the sand” over midwife shortages, after figures suggested a quarter of NHS trusts had not assessed their workforce needs for at least four years.

The Royal College of Midwives said senior staff were avoiding doing the calculation, because they knew they could not afford to plug any gaps it would expose.

Of 99 trusts that responded to a Freedom of Information request, 24.2% had made no assessment in the past four years, 66.7% in the last two and 9% had not done so for at least a decade.

The figures, compiled by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, showed that 80% still had vacancies in funded midwife positions − though the rate was now at its lowest for three years.

“This is a recipe for disaster and can have a disastrous impact on staff morale, burn out and sickness rates, which only make a maternity service even more short-staffed”

Cathy Warwick

Births in England have increased by a quarter in the last decade, according to recent official statistics.

In the 99 trusts there were a total of 561 vacancies at the turn of the year − ranging from a 17.8% vacancy rate at West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust to the fully-staffed Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust.

Midwife Vacancies in NHS Trusts in EnglandJan 14July 13Jan 13July 12Jan 12July 11Jan 11
Actual Number561644593680617711878


RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “It is worrying that a quarter of NHS trusts have not conducted any kind of assessment of the number of midwives they need to employ for more than five years − some have not done so for more than a decade.

“Meanwhile, the number of births is booming − 2012 saw more births than any year since 1971. And, even then, four in every five NHS trusts say they have midwife vacancies, a situation that we feel is getting worse, not better. This has to change,” she said.

“The pressure on maternity units becomes worse when there is a mix of insufficient midwives to begin with. On top of this, midwifery vacancies are not being filled,” she said.

Cathy Warwick

“This is a recipe for disaster and can have a disastrous impact on staff morale, burn out and sickness rates, which only make a maternity service even more short-staffed.”

Professor Warwick added: “We hear from some heads of midwifery that trusts are not conducting proper assessments of staffing requirements because they know they won’t be able to afford to implement the findings – so they bury their heads in the sand and stick with their out-of-date assessments that no longer bear relation to their needs and the needs of mothers and babies.

“Our assessment is that we need around 4,800 more midwives in England. The government is increasing the number of midwives, and that is welcome, but much more needs to be done.”

In response, health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “The NHS is a safe place to give birth, with women reporting high levels of trust and confidence in staff.

“Latest figures show that there are almost 22,000 qualified midwives working in England and there are a record number of 6,000 midwives in training.”



Readers' comments (5)

  • midwife's like nurses are leaving in droves..fed up of being treated like second class citizens

    its what hunt wants anyway...they can then move in with their private cronies

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  • Burying their heads as the managers where I work will all be retired in the next few years! Apparently we are fully staffed. We are constantly busy with the delivery units and wards full to bursting. Staff are taken from the ward areas to work on the delivery units leaving the wards short of staff. This is apparently acceptable and care on these area are suppose to be maintained with the staff that are left. And should the women complain about lack of care then that is our fault. We should not be telling clients we are short staffed, although it is fairly obvious when the same midwives have been on the ward for 13 1/2 hours without a break! No breaks and finish late is just accepted now. Managers just aren't interested in that, nor do we get our time back as it is totally our fault we do not go for breaks or leave on time! It is and will get worse as the more experience band 6's and 7's are coming up for retirement. The band 7 posts are being taken by midwives with less than 5 years experience some have just 2 years. Those of us with 15-20+ experience in all aspects of midwifery are rejected for these post due to 'lack of experience'!! Don't know if this is unique to where I work. Dread the future as some of these inexperienced midwives will be our future managers who are bullying their way to the top! Love my job but the future of the profession really is already in decline.

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  • They probably watched One Born Every Minute, saw the amount of sitting down chatting and snacking shown and took that to mean everything is ok.

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  • Professor Warwick made a very clear point concerning the difference between numbers of staff and numbers required to match the needs of the those being cared for on R4 today.

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  • All managers and Chief Execs are able to bury their heads in the sand thanks to this 'speak out safely' nonsense as they've now been absolved of having any responsibility with regard to due diligence, with the onus being place onto staff to raise concerns.

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