One in 20 midwife positions unfilled
The NHS may not be able to give women a single dedicated midwife during pregnancy and labour, as promised by ministers.
Figures show that 583 midwife posts in NHS hospitals are vacant and 276 maternity support worker jobs are unfilled.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust has the higest vacancy rate, 39 per cent. If its 76 full time midwife positions, 29 posts need to be filled.
One in five maternity units (22 per cent) across the country have cut midwife numbers in the past year and some have reported that their maternity unit has been cut in half. Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust has 101 full time midwives last year but this year has 47 which is a 54 per cent drop.
The figures were obtained using the Freedom of Information Act by the Conservatives.
This week, Professor Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said tens of millions of pounds that were meant to increase the number of midwives have not been received by hospitals.
“On the very busy labour wards that are struggling to cope with the rising birth rate, midwives are having to look after sometimes two or three women in labour and that’s when the woman ends up being left alone. That’s not only unacceptable, that’s not safe,” she said.
The failure to pass on the money, part of a drive to improve maternity services, means the NHS will not be able to honour promises by ministers to give women a single dedicated midwife during pregnancy and labour.
Alan Johnson, the health secretary, in February pledged £330m of extra funding over the next three years to implement the Maternity Matters strategy whose guarantees include giving women the choice of whether to give birth at home instead of at hospital. He also promised that he would recruit 1,000 more midwives to the NHS by 2009.
Health Minister Ann Keen said: “Claims that midwife numbers are falling are complete and utter nonsense.
“Validated figures from the latest NHS workforce census show the number of midwives has surpassed 25,000 for the first time and we know there is continuing growth towards recruiting an additional 1,000 midwives by September 2009, rising to 4,000 in 2012. There has also been a 25 % increase in the number of students entering midwifery training since 1997.”