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Hunt confirms need to boost midwife headcount

Comments come in wake of RCM survey showing how maternity services are struggling to meet demand

Caroline White

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the need to boost the midwife headcount, in a statement made to the House of Commons yesterday.

The statement was made in response to a question from Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, who asked what the health secretary planned to do about the fact that over a third of maternity units closed their doors to women in labour last year, and why he thought this was happening.

Mr Hunt replied: “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 that he would be happy to look at problems in Ms Chapman’s area, but he highlighted that the forthcoming maternity review, led by Baroness Cumberlege, would help the government to address the problem sustainably.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has made it clear that the shortage of midwives in England remains critical, with the shortfall in England amounting to 2600 full-time midwives.

His comments come on the heels of an RCM survey of UK senior midwives, published earlier this week, which revealed the extent to which maternity services are struggling to cope with demand.

It showed that more than a quarter of heads of midwifery services— 29.5% in 2014 and 29.6% in 2015—said that they simply did not have enough midwives.

Most respondents said that they were dealing with more complex cases than in previous years, and that services, such as home birth and postnatal care were suffering, as a result of the shortages, with 65.6% and 64.6% of head of midwifery services in 2014 and 2015, respectively saying that on-call community staff have had to be called in to cover the labour and delivery suites.

The same survey reported that over two-fifths of maternity units had to close during the past year because they couldn’t cope with demand —32.8% in 2014 and 41.5% in 2015.

Units closed their doors on average on 6.6 separate occasions in 2014 and 4.8 in 2015. The most times a single unit closed in a year was 33 times in 2014 and 23 times in 2015.

"Our maternity services are overworked, understaffed, underfunded and struggling to meet the demands being placed on them. This is deeply worrying for the quality of care women are receiving, and the safety of services,” commented RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick.

She added: “All of this shows a system that is creaking at the seams and only able to deliver high quality care through the efforts and dedication of its staff. When services are operating at or beyond their capacity, safety is compromised and mistakes can, and almost certainly will be made, through no fault of the dedicated staff delivering the service.”

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