Maternity units 'creaking at the seams' due to lack of midwives

Third of staff surveyed say they cannot do their job to the standard they wish

A chronic shortage of midwives was responsible for the closure of two fifths of maternity units in the UK last year, according to a survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

Budget cuts and reduced access to training were also blamed for the problem in a survey of senior staff published by the RCM today.

According to the Heads of Midwifery (HoMs) 32.8% of units shut in 2014 and 41.5% in 2015, all due to being unable to meet demand for their services.

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

On staffing levels well over one quarter of HoMs said that they simply did not have enough midwives. The current estimate is that 2,600 full-time posts remain unfilled across the country.

Fewer support groups

Ten per cent of those surveyed also reported a reduction in services in the past year, which included fewer specialist midwives, parent classes and support groups for bereavement and breast feeding.

Almost one fifth of those responding disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement 'maternity is a priority in my organisation', while nearly one third (31.2%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement 'I am able to do my job to a standard I am personally happy with'. 

Commenting on the survey, which forms part of its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, RCM general secretary Cathy Warwick, said: ‘Our maternity services are overworked, understaffed, underfunded and struggling to meet the demands being placed on them.

‘Midwives and maternity support workers are too often keeping services afloat by working long hours, often doing unpaid overtime and missing breaks.

'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.'

This is a free article for registered users

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.