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The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned that the rocketing birth rate has produced a serious shortage of midwives in many regions of England.
This, the RCM says, together with an increase in the number of ‘complex births’ has produced “a dangerous cocktail threatening the safety and quality of maternity care”.
The thought that some women might be not be receiving adequate support during pregnancy, labour and birth has led to fears that mistakes might be made by over-stretched and under-trained healthcare professionals.
People who have suffered as a result of medical negligence can make a personal injury claim but the RCM is understandably keen to avoid families suffering distress due to insufficient staffing levels.
Some of the areas with the greatest midwife shortages include:
•The South East (a shortage of 1015 midwives)
•London (a shortage of 862)
•The East of England (780)
•The East Midlands (600)
A look at the RCM figures show that the national shortage of midwives across England’s regions is 4,664 – a worryingly high amount at a time of great unemployment.
Not all areas are suffering from a lack of midwives – the RCM believes that there are enough midwives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The North West midwife shortage of 257 seems small compared to other areas but even one midwife can make a lot of difference – the RCM estimates that one midwife is needed for every 28 hospital births and one is needed for every 35 home births.
‘More complex’ births
A midwife’s expertise, the organisation stresses, is particularly vital at the moment since births are becoming more complex.
As early as November 2010, Cathy Warwick, chairman of the RCM, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “Our staff are seeing more older mothers, more younger mothers and more multiple pregnancies producing twins and triplets.
She added: “There are also more women who are managing to get pregnant who wouldn’t before with conditions such as cardiac disease.”
Rise in the birth rate
As well as an increase in the complexity of births there has also been a significant increase in birth numbers – the 22 per cent rise in births over the past 20 years has put an enormous strain on health resources.
David Cameron made it a pre-election promise that his party would train an extra 3,000 midwives should he come to power. The RCM says this is a pledge which the prime minister has backed away. However, the Department of Health says that a record number of midwives are currently being trained.
Consequences of midwives shortage
The RCM said in a statement released on 15th September 2011: “Midwife shortages can mean that women wanting and expecting a home birth are denied one. It will mean midwife-led units close, permanently or temporarily. And it will mean that breastfeeding rates will not improve because there are not enough midwives to offer women the help and support they need.”
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