The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has called on the government to make good on last year’s pledge to boost the practitioner headcount by 3000 after the latest NHS workforce figures* show that the NHS gained just 51 new full-time equivalent midwives in 2018.
The figures equate to just one additional midwife per week for England’s NHS and about a third of one midwife for each maternity unit, says the College.
Commenting on the new figures, Sean O’Sullivan, RCM head of health and social policy, said: "Money must reach the NHS frontline. That's what our new prime minister committed to when he spoke in Downing Street [last week], and he's absolutely right.
“Last year the Conservatives committed to deliver 3,000 more midwives for the NHS frontline. Official workforce figures reveal, however, that the NHS is adding midwives at a rate of just one per week, and that's across the whole of England.
“At that rate, the Conservatives will take over half a century to deliver on their pledge, until we're well into the 2070s. That's not good enough. We need action. We need it now. We need more midwives on the frontline of NHS care.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also taken the opportunity to urge the new prime minister to tackle the nursing shortage across the UK and to press the case for a new law that would make the secretary of state for health and social care accountable for NHS staffing levels in England.
This follows the introduction of similar laws in Wales and Scotland, and is part of the RCN’s ongoing campaign for safe staffing levels to be enshrined in law across all health and care settings in the UK.
The letter sent by RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair to Boris Johnson also calls for investment in nursing higher education and continuing professional development (CPD), and outlines how any future immigration system must attract and enable international nursing staff with the right skills to work and remain in health care services.
It acknowledges the challenges that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) will present: more than 10,000 EU nurses and midwives have left the UK workforce since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2016.
Dame Donna Kinnair said: “A growing number of jobs left unfilled has contributed to a crisis in social care, huge pressure on accident and emergency departments, a health care desert in rural areas and longer waiting lists across the board, from hospitals to GP appointments.
“It is patients and nursing staff who have to cope with the consequences of these problems. They will be desperate for a signal that things will improve.”
She added: “The new prime minister has much to gain in tackling these issues with urgency. Real investment in nurse education and a new legal duty to deliver safe and effective staffing across health and care settings would pay dividends in terms of improved health outcomes from cancer to childhood obesity, and ultimately a more productive economy.”
*NHS Workforce Statistics - April 2019. NHS England, 25 July 2019