Midwives “at breaking point” are quitting jobs and leaving maternity wards understaffed

New data shows the total midwifery workforce fell by 410 last year to 26,779 in January – and this is after ministers admitted there was already a shortage of 2,000 midwives

The number of midwives is declining
The number of midwives is declining

Midwives ‘at breaking point’ are giving up in droves, new data showed this week that a damning report exposed the world’s biggest maternity scandal NHS Story.

Staff shortages were a key factor in two decades of poor care linked to the deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers Shrewsbury.

New data shows the total midwifery workforce fell by 410 last year to 26,779 in January – and this is after ministers admitted there was already a shortage of 2,000 midwives.

The Royal College of Midwives survey shows that only one in 17 midwives say their maternity ward has enough staff to provide safe care. This is a drop of almost one in five.

Donna Ockenden is Chair of the Independent Review into Maternity Services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust



RCM director Alice Sorby said: “It is absolutely shocking to see the impact of understaffing.

“We have repeatedly warned the Government that midwives, midwives and everyone who works in maternity services are at the end of their tether, that they are physically and emotionally drained.

“For too long too many staff have filled the staffing gaps and the government has benefited from that goodwill.

“Maternity services cannot be run cheaply, and certainly not by relying on staff to work beyond their paid hours. “It’s not safe and it’s not sustainable.”

This week’s Ockenden Report revealed 201 potentially preventable baby deaths, including 131 stillbirths and 70 newborn deaths in Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals NHS Trust.

There were an additional 29 cases of severe brain damage and 65 cases of cerebral palsy related to poor care. Nine women were also found to have died after mistakes.

The Mirror revealed staff shortages meant midwives in the community were called in to deal with the most complex cases and midwives were “cancelled” for calling up higher-level medics by pressing the emergency buzzer.

The number of midwives has been gradually falling since the Government wrote to the Health and Social Care Committee that the NHS had almost 2,000 fewer than the number needed last April.

RCM polls show that more than half of midwives are now considering quitting their job, 52%, up from 36% last year.

Midwives scored well above the NHS average on every question about intention to leave their profession.

Two thirds say they feel “regularly burned out” and a similar proportion say they are “exhausted at the thought of another understaffed shift”.

Health Minister Sajid Javid


Agency Anadolu via Getty Images)

Ms Sorby added: “This week’s figures show that the midwifery workforce is underfunded, underpaid and undervalued.

“The blame for this lies squarely with the government. The RCM has raised this for well over a decade and has been ignored by successive health ministers.

“It’s time Sajid Javid sits up and takes note because midwives and obstetricians are at their breaking points.”

A key recommendation from Ockenden is that safe staffing for midwives be enshrined in the NHS, which would require between £200m and £350m in additional annual funding.

The NHS has been granted £127million so far.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The NHS is investing £127m in maternity services over the next year, on top of £95m invested in recruiting 1,200 midwives and 100 midwifery consultants.

“Support for the mental health and wellbeing of staff, including midwives, remains a key priority and the NHS continues to provide a wide range of support, including through mental health and wellbeing centres.”

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