Deep con­cern for our mid­wives

Hayes & Harlington Gazette - - Your Say -

THE num­ber of NHS mid­wives in Eng­land rose by just 67 in the last year, de­spite uni­ver­si­ties turn­ing out over 2,000 newly-trained staff, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est State of Ma­ter­nity Ser­vices Re­port pub­lished on Septem­ber 12 by the Royal Col­lege of Mid­wives.

There were the equiv­a­lent of 21,601 full-time mid­wives work­ing in the NHS in Eng­land in May, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures from NHS Dig­i­tal, up just 67 on a year ear­lier. The rise con­trasts sharply with the 2,132 mid­wives who grad­u­ated from English uni­ver­si­ties in 2016/17.

It is of deep con­cern that we’re only see­ing an in­crease of about one NHS mid­wife for ev­ery 30 or so newly-qual­i­fied mid­wives grad­u­at­ing from our uni­ver­si­ties. It’s not that new mid­wives aren’t get­ting jobs – they are. The prob­lem is, so many ex­ist­ing mid­wives are leav­ing the ser­vice, the two things al­most can­cel each other out.

The gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to train­ing an ex­tra 3,000 mid­wives. That’s great news, but if the trend iden­ti­fied in this new re­port con­tin­ues, those 3,000 ad­di­tional train­ing places may only pro­duce an ex­tra 100 mid­wives on the NHS front­line. We must see still more trained as well as ac­tion on re­tain­ing the staff that we al­ready have.

The re­port, which es­ti­mates that the na­tional mid­wife short­age is un­changed on the pre­vi­ous year, at 3,500 full-time staff, also high­lights the chal­lenge of keep­ing EU-trained mid­wives as Brexit looms.

In the year to March, just 33 mid­wives who trained else­where in the EU regis­tered in the UK to work as mid­wives. This num­ber had been 272 only two years pre­vi­ously, be­fore the 2016 ref­er­en­dum. Over the same pe­riod, the num­ber of Euro­pean mid­wives leav­ing the reg­is­ter jumped from 160 to 234.

We have around 1,700 EU-trained mid­wives regis­tered to work here in the UK, and they will be car­ing for tens of thou­sands of women ev­ery year. Their num­bers are al­ready fall­ing quite dra­mat­i­cally how­ever, and my fear is that if Brexit goes ahead, es­pe­cially with­out a deal, their num­bers could quite sim­ply col­lapse. More needs to be done now to guar­an­tee their right to stay and work in the UK post-Brexit; even if there is no deal, then more will leave and that will make our short­age even worse.

The num­ber of births dipped last year. With the num­ber of births off its peak and this new com­mit­ment from the gov­ern­ment for more train­ing places for mid­wives, we have an op­por­tu­nity to tackle this long­stand­ing prob­lem.

But we need ac­tion to en­sure those train­ing places ma­te­ri­alise, that there are enough clin­i­cal train­ing place­ments for stu­dents, that they grad­u­ate and get jobs. Even more than that, we need to en­sure the mid­wives we do have stay in the ser­vice, and that means things like en­sur­ing NHS staff get good pay rises in the fu­ture.

It would be great if in fu­ture years I needed to com­plain less about the short­age and was able to speak more about the great things that a well-staffed, well-re­sourced ma­ter­nity ser­vice was achiev­ing.

Gill Wal­ton Chief ex­ec­u­tive, Royal Col­lege

of Mid­wives

Bat­tle of Bri­tain Day, Septem­ber 15

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