A BABY boom has pushed maternity services in the UK to a “crucial tipping point”, with midwives under intense strain and hospitals struggling to cope.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says there is a massive shortage of midwives after some areas of the UK has seen a 50 per cent rise in the number of births in the last few years.
In a report to be published in parliament tomorrow, the RCM warned that an extra 5,000 midwives were needed in England alone to deal with the highest birth rate in 40 years.
It is calling on the Government to provide a guarantee not to cut midwife training places.
Each of the four parts of the UK has experienced a rise in the number of births in the last decade – 22 per cent in England, 17 per cent in Wales, 15 per cent in Northern Ireland and 12 per cent in Scotland.
The RCM said England and Wales had been “overwhelmed” by the rising birth rate, but while midwife numbers were increasing a little the strain on numbers has led to antenatal care of expectant mothers becoming “threadbare”.
There are also concerns about an ageing number of midwives, with too few following in their footsteps.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “England remains around 5,000 midwives short of the number required to provide mothers and babies with high-quality service they need and deserve.
“Maternity care is the earliest health intervention of all and getting care right for mothers and babies is a vital part of supporting families and building a foundation for good health in later life.”
She said that while more midwives are being employed in England and the availability of training is on the rise, efforts need to be redoubled because of the baby boom and the relentless rise in the numbers being born.
“A corner is being turned, but this is no time for backsliding from the Government,” she said.
“Maternity units are under intense strain and have been now for many years, with many midwives really at the end of their tether in terms of what they can tolerate.
“We are reaching a crucial tipping point for maternity services in England.”
The shortage of midwives has forced some NHS maternity hospitals to close their doors and temporarily turn women away who are about to give birth, according to The Sunday Times.
An RCM report last year found more than half of NHS trusts had to close their door an average of seven times a year and divert women to other maternity hospitals because they could not cope with numbers, the newspaper said.
Jon Skewes, a director at the RCM, said: “We are concerned that our members are so stretched and that in some circumstances units have been forced to close on a temporary basis to ensure safety.”
The RCM says it would like to see more midwife-led units and more home births to reduce the shortage of midwives, the appropriate deployment of properly trained and supervised maternity support workers and a guarantee from the Government not to cut midwife training places.
The State of Maternity Services report showed that in 2011 there were 688,120 babies born in England, the highest number since 1971.
Provisional birth numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the first half of last year point to 2012 being another record-breaking year for births.
The ONS forecasts that births in England could reach 743,000 by 2014. The number of babies born in some “baby boom hotspots” of England has jumped more than 50 per cent in recent years, according to an RCM analysis of ONS statistics.
The fastest-growing number of births was found in Corby, Northants, where births jumped 63 per cent between 2002 and 2011.
That is almost three times faster than the England-wide rise of 21.6 per cent.
Other baby boom hotspots include Bournemouth, where births rose by 54.1 per cent, Boston in Lincolnshire (53.5 per cent), the London borough of Barking and Dagenham (53.5 per cent), Slough (50.4 per cent), Norwich (48.7 per cent), Peterborough (45.6 per cent), Watford (43.7 per cent), Southampton (42.9 per cent) and Bristol (42.7 per cent).