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RCM petition attracts widespread support but fails to force debate

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An e-petition calling for 5,000 extra midwives to be recruited has failed to attract the 100,000 signatures needed to secure a debate in parliament.

Any public petition set up on the government’s website that gets at least 100,000 signatures has to be considered for debate in the House of Commons. The Royal College of Midwives’ petition closed last Thursday with a final signature total of 76,071.

The RCM has called on the government to take action to recruit more midwives in the NHS and has attracted support from MPs from all three political parties.

Once parliament has returned from its summer recess, the RCM said it would be working with MPs to secure a debate about the shortage of midwives, despite the failure of its e-petition.

Apart from MPs, many celebrities and maternity care stakeholders have also signed and supported the petition. Signatories include England and Arsenal football Theo Walcott, his mother Lynn, a retired midwife, the artist Sam Taylor Johnson, and the actors Pam Ferris, Stephen McGann and Terri Dwyer. It was also supported by the Patients Association and the charity Baby Lifeline.  

RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “We are delighted more than 76,000 people are calling on the government to take action to recruit more midwives and this huge groundswell of public support reflects how much people value maternity services, mothers, babies and midwives. This support means so much to our members and reflects the public consensus that we need more midwives.

“In order to deliver the high-quality maternity care for mothers and babies proposed by the government, we need 5,000 more midwives and the public have shown that they support this argument.”

Health Select Committee member and Labour MP Grahame Morris said: “The shortage of midwives affects every region in England. We need urgent action from Government, which includes honouring their commitment to recruit the equivalent of 5,000 more full-time midwives. Care for women but especially for babies at the very start of life should be a top priority for NHS resources.”

Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, said: “The fact that so many people have signed this petition to protect maternity services underlines just how vitally important this issue is. I am happy to say here and now that I will continue to raise the issue of midwife numbers in Parliament.”

Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, added: “Inadequate staff-to- patient ratios puts patient safety at risk, not least in midwifery where good quality maternity care is paramount.”

Recent statistics showed that there were 688,120 live births in England last year, up by more than 124,000 since the start of the baby boom in 2001.

Over the last decade, the number of births in the country is up by over 22%. Over the same period, the number of midwives has risen by less than 17%.

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