Maternity units are facing cuts in their budgets and staff levels, despite having to deal with a higher birthrate and more complex births, a survey has shown.
At its annual conference in Manchester, the Royal College of Midwives surveyed 83 out of the UK’s 194 heads of midwifery.
One-third said they had been asked to cut staffing levels over the past year, while 30% said their units had seen a fall in budgets.
And almost half (47%) said they expected to be told to cut their staffing levels in the next year.
Of those questioned, two-thirds (67%) said they did not have enough staff to cope with demand, despite a rise in the overall number of births and those involving obese, older or teenage women, who often need extra support and can have more complicated deliveries.
Between 2001 and 2009, the number of live births in England rose by 107,314 (19%) to more than 670,000 a year.
But in the same period, the number of NHS midwives rose by 12%, or just over 2,000 full-time equivalent posts.
According to the RCM, almost all parts of England have vacancies for midwives over the generally accepted vacancy rate of 3%. In London, this has reached 15% and it stands at more than 8% in the East of England.
In the East Midlands, the rate is 6%, while it is over 6% in the South Central region and over 7% in the South East.
General secretary of the RCM Cathy Warwick said: “I am deeply worried that we are seeing static or falling budgets, yet midwives and maternity services are faced with a continually rising demand.
“Whichever way you look at them, the figures are not adding up.
“The NHS will be facing a fall in its income in real terms in the next few years and I have great fears for the future.
“If maternity services are struggling now, how will they cope when there is less money?”