UK & World News
Midwife Shortage 'Putting Mums-To-Be At Risk'
Maternity services in the UK are at risk from a national shortage of 2,300 midwives and lack of NHS funding, MPs have said.
The damning report by the Public Accounts Committee criticised the Department of Health and NHS England for being unable to tell it who is accountable for "ensuring something as fundamental" as whether the NHS has enough midwives.
It said it had gathered evidence that "many maternity services are running at a loss, or at best breaking even, and that the available funding may be insufficient for trusts to employ enough midwives and consultants to provide high quality, safe care".
The cross-party group of MPs also said more than a quarter of maternity units had to close to new patients for half a day or more between April and September 2012, with one of the reasons being a lack of midwives.
Expectant mother Nikki Cornfield, waiting to give birth at St George's Hospital in Tooting, told Sky News Online that she agreed with some of its findings.
She said: "I think the care is excellent, let me say that first of all. The staff are brilliant and they are doing a really good job.
"But often, there just aren't enough of them. They're just busy, busy, busy.
"At one point yesterday it looked like I was going to be induced, but there wasn't sufficient staff to do it."
The report said: "Although there has been a welcome increase in midwives, there is still a national shortage of some 2,300 midwives required to meet current birth rates.
"Pressure on staff leads to low morale and nearly one-third of midwives with less than 10 years' work experience are intending to leave the profession within a year."
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: "The vast majority of women who use NHS services to have their babies have good experiences, but outcomes and performance could still be much better.
"Despite an overall increase in the number of midwives there is still a shortage of 2,300 that are required to meet current birth rates - a truly worrying figure.
"What's more, the Department of Health and NHS England struggled to tell my committee who is accountable for ensuring something as fundamental as whether the NHS has enough midwives."
But Minister for Health and Maternity Dr Dan Poulter argued that the "NHS remains one of the safest places in the world to give birth" and added that "most women would recommend their maternity care to their friends and family".
He said: "We have reversed the historic decline in midwife numbers. There are now 1,500 more working in our NHS and we have a record 5,000 in training.
"The number of consultants working on maternity wards has gone up too. But of course there is always much more to do.
"We are investing significantly in improvements to maternity services right across the country so women have more choice and a better environment when giving birth."
The report also found that rates of stillbirth and babies dying within seven days of birth were still higher in England than other UK nations and there was too much variation in the quality of care offered by different trusts.
The MPs also called for women to be given more choice over where to give birth, with research on more than 5,000 women showing that only a quarter wanted to give birth in a hospital obstetric unit.
Nevertheless, 87% of women gave birth in this setting in 2012.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "Maternity services are many thousands of midwives short of the number needed to deliver safe, high quality care.
"The birth rate remains exceptionally high and as this and the National Audit Office report state, births are also becoming increasingly complex.
"This puts even more demands on midwives and maternity services.
"We are seeing areas such as antenatal and postnatal care in particular suffering because trusts often do not have enough midwives to provide consistent and high quality care before and after pregnancy."
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