The Department of Health has reiterated plans to continue to train midwives at current rates in light of a survey published today (16 November) that suggests maternity units are already seeing heavy budget and staffing cuts.
A survey of 83 UK heads of midwifery by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) revealed that nearly one-third (29.6%) of maternity units were facing budget cuts and almost one-third (32.5%) had been asked to cut staffing levels in the past year. Almost half (47%) said that they expected to reduce staffing levels over the next year.
Meanwhile, a separate poll of 3,690 midwives found that 83% had frequently seen staffing shortages in their working area over the previous 12 months.
The IDS NHS Staff Survey findings, presented alongside the RCM survey data at the RCM annual conference in Manchester today, also revealed that more than half of midwives fear that the increasing workload is having a negative impact on patient care.
Extra pressure was cited as the reason behind plummeting morale among staff - more than 50% of respondents said they had seriously considered leaving their jobs, with more than three-quarters (85%) of these citing workload and stress as the main reason for wanting to leave.
Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the RCM, said: "The NHS will be facing a fall in income in real terms in the next few years and I have great fears for the future. If maternity services are struggling now, how will they cope when there is less money?"
However, public health minister Anne Milton said that the secretary of state had made it clear in a recent meeting with the RCM that the Government will continue to train midwives at "current rates".
She added: "We are considering ways of helping to improve midwife recruitment and retention, especially given the increased number and complexity of births in recent years. We look forward to working with the RCM and others on the best ways to make sure current and future systems deliver an appropriately resourced and skilled workforce."
Dr Tony Falconer, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, warned that the rising birth rate and the increase in complex pregnancies were causing maternity services many challenges. "As well as the need for more midwives, there is a need for more consultants to deal with the increase in the number of high-risk pregnancies," he said.