Health service HR departments are under pressure to do more to retain and support midwives pushed to the limit due to a surge in births, it has emerged.
Nearly 650,000 babies were delivered during 2007-08 - a rise of 20,000 on the previous year, latest NHS Information Figures showed last week.But a shortage of midwives – 5,000 in England alone – has prompted the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) to call on HR departments to help address the growing crisis.
The RCM has long predicted the pressure on midwives was likely to increase. It urged HR managers to focus on retaining the bulk of existing staff who were approaching retirement age.
Jon Skewes, the RCM's director of employment relations, said support packages for student midwives also needed addressing.
"Midwives need support in terms of placements in that first year after post qualification. There's lots of evidence to show that they get a first job in the NHS and then leave in the first year. It's a pressurised environment."
Attention should also be paid to maternity care assistants, Skewes said. "They provide a valuable role in supporting midwives... We know that if they get the support and training they may want to become a midwife. We need a comprehensive approach to get the numbers up."
Junior health minister Ann Keen said: "There are more maternity staff than ever before - over 25,600 midwives, 5,200 obstetricians and gynaecologists including almost 1,600 consultants. Primary Care Trusts have met our commitment to recruit an additional 1,000 midwives and expect to see 4,000 extra midwives by 2012."