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Midwifery services at crisis point in NHS

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has revealed the results of a survey showing that NHS midwifery services are being compromised, with more babies being born against a background of cuts, headcount freezes, service shortages and financial crises

The RCM surveyed every Head of Midwifery (HOMs) in the UK and those who responded have painted a grim picture of Healthcare Trusts trying to cut deficits by the end of the financial year at a time when the birth rate is rising in most maternity units across the UK.

Louise Silverton, Deputy General Secretary of the RCM, said: "We have had deep concern about the effects such rapid change is bringing to the NHS and this [survey] is irrefutable proof that midwives are under enormous pressure and nothing is being done to alleviate the situation."

"HOMs are in charge of making sure that women have a good birthing experience and that is very hard when a third of those who responded to our survey said their maternity services budget had been cut, that a total freeze was still in place in many units and that newly qualified midwives are not getting jobs," added Silverton.

Survey findings:

  • Two-thirds of HOMs reported that their unit was understaffed
  • Sixty-six per cent of HOMs worked in trusts that were in deficit in 2005-2006
  • While trusts are increasingly reliant on maternity support workers (MSWs), they are employing fewer midwives in 2006 than in 2005
  • More than 22 per cent of HOMs reported that their midwifery staff had been cut by an average of 3.5 per cent
  • Trusts are slashing budgets for the training and development of midwives, in some cases by 75 per cent or even 100 per cent
  • A number of midwifery units are now wholly dependent on charitable donations to fund midwifery training

According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, the midwifery vacancy rate of one per cent was at its lowest level for six years, though difficulties remained filling vacancies in London and the south-east.

A DoH spokeswoman told The Guardian that almost 2,500 more midwives had been employed since Labour came into power in 1997, adding: "Through more investment in training staff and finding ways for midwives to come back to work in the NHS, we expect to see further increases in the midwifery workforce, but clearly there is still more to be done."

9th January 2007

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