Midwifery shortage highlighted as birth rate increases

Posted by Patricia Wakeford on

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I was interested to read that the Office for National Statistics has reported for 2015. The Royal College of Midwives has reported on the figures and raised concerns about midwifery shortages. 

It appears that many women are leaving having a baby until they are in their early 30s. The number of women over 35 having a baby has increased too.

There were 697,852 live births in England and Wales in 2015. This was an increase of 0.4% from the figure in 2014. 27.5% were births to mothers born outside of the UK. It is surmised that women are delaying having children for various reasons such as more women participation in higher education and the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty and housing factors.

In England, the stillbirth rate in 2015 was 4.4 per 1,000 total births, down from 4.6 in 2014. There has been a general downward trend in the stillbirth rate since 2005 with a decrease of 18.5% over the last 10 years. This is very good news especially as we compared unfavourably with other European countries.

The increased birth rate, unfortunately, puts extra pressure on midwifery services. RCM director for England Jacque Gerrard said: ‘These latest statistics show that the baby boom is continuing, but unfortunately the number of midwives is not keeping pace with the growing birth rate. We are now short 3500 midwives in England. Our midwives continually tell us of the pressures they face daily in delivering the care they want to and we know this is compromised due to chronic understaffing.’

Midwives need time to talk to women about health issues such as nutrition, cessation of smoking and alcohol intake. Too few midwives reduces the time spent with each mother.

The State of Services Midwifery report 2015 indicated that the number of midwives has risen. However, approximately 31% are aged over 50 and will retire in the next 10 to 15 years. This does not allow much time to train midwives and for them to gain experience.

This is an interesting conundrum. We have a reduction in the still birth rate and an increase in the birth rate. However, we are facing a potential shortage of more experienced midwives in the next decade. It is good that this has been appreciated and that steps are being taken to train more midwives to reduce the effect of this midwifery 'time bomb'.

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About the Author

Photograph of Patricia Wakeford

Patricia is a Senior Associate, in our Clinical Negligence team, and is also a qualified midwife with many years of experience working in the NHS.

Patricia Wakeford
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