England’s baby boom just keeps on booming, but the country is short of around 5,000 midwives, writes Cathy Warwick chief executive, Royal College of Midwives.
England’s baby boom just keeps on booming. Over 688,000 babies were born in England in 2011, the highest number for 40 years. Provisional numbers for the first half of 2012 suggest that the total for last year will be higher still, and official projections point to further big rises in the years to come. Those are amongst the findings of the latest State of Maternity Services report, which I will be launching in the Jubilee Room, in Parliament, at 10am today.
There has been a big increase in births to older women in particular. The number of babies to women in England and Wales aged 40 or over is at its highest level since 1948, and in Scotland the number of babies born to women aged 45 or over has more than tripled in the last decade. This demands more of midwives as older women are more likely to suffer from complications and need medical intervention.
Some areas stand out as real baby boom hotspots. Births to women living in Corby, for example, were up 63 per cent between 2002 and 2011.
The number of midwives is up too, and indeed up by almost 1,000 since the Coalition came to power, but by nowhere near enough. Our latest calculation, which is for the year 2011, is that England is short of around 5,000 midwives. The Department of Health is starting to wake up to this problem, with more places for student midwives being commissioned for example, but they need to work harder to turn this around.
England is not alone in being short of midwives. Wales is too. This hasn’t happened because of a continuing baby boom; in fact, births have stopped rising in number in Wales. The shortage there is caused by cuts to midwife numbers over the last few years. It is totally self-inflicted by the Welsh Government, which must act to put it right.
Ministers in Edinburgh and Belfast have, to their credit, kept midwife numbers up, and as a result there is no overall midwife shortage in either Scotland or Northern Ireland. That said, Scotland has cut training places for student midwives, and we call on the Scottish Government to reverse that. There may be enough midwives in Scotland right now, but the age profile isn’t looking too good; they need to train midwives now to replace those likely to retire soon.
Good maternity care can pay real dividends. Quality antenatal and postnatal care for example can help a young woman quit smoking, improve her diet, and start breastfeeding her baby, with all the clear health benefits in that for her and her baby. Right now a lot of that is being cut back, at least in England, because of the dire shortage of midwives. We need action to turn that around, and ensure that every baby has the very best start in life and the very best chance to live a long, healthy life.