Maternity services cut as baby boom on way, midwives warn

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The biggest baby boom in 40 years is expected just as maternity cutbacks hit hospitals, it was claimed last night.

New figures suggest more than 700,000 babies will be born in England this year, which will be the highest number since 1971, according to the Royal College of Midwives.

This year 4,600 more babies were born between January and March than last year, while NHS maternity services are being cut back nationally.

Cathy Warwick, RCM chief executive, said: “The baby boom is restarting with renewed vigour.

“We are already at birth numbers that haven’t been seen for at least a couple of generations, probably not in the working life of any midwife practising today.”

The average number of births per midwife has worsened recently and RCM estimate the UK is short of 5,150 full-time equivalent midwives.

Yesterday the Government pledged £25m to help improve maternity wards.

More than a quarter of UK heads of midwifery told RCM that their budget has been cut in the last 12 months.

Just as the baby boom is being reignited, NHS maternity services across the country are being cut back, meaning job prospects for newly-qualified midwives are increasingly bleak, the RCM says.

Last week a coroner ruled a baby girl who had suffered severe 
head injuries during childbirth at a Leeds hospital could have lived if danger signs had been acted 
on.

Betsy Wright died as a result of force used as doctors made seven attempts to extract her during a Caesarean section at St James’s Hospital after her head had become lodged in her mother Helen Ibbitson’s pelvis.

But the inquest was told a scanning machine monitoring Betsy’s heart rate had been indicating there was a problem as long as three hours and 29 minutes before the Caesarean section was carried out.

After the hearing Miss Ibbitson said when she went into labour, the maternity unit at Leeds General Infirmary – her chosen hospital – was closed.

A report into the tragedy said maternity services in Leeds were “not sufficient” to deal with the growing birth rate, leading to unit closures at times of peak demand.

The £25m pledged by the Government can be used to help improve maternity wards.

The cash can be used to create en suites, rooms where partners can stay overnight or other facilities such as birthing pools.

Ministers also plan to expand an online information service for new parents.

At present, the NHS Information Service for Parents provides advice about pregnancy and having a baby up to six months old, but the service is to be expanded to include information about infants until they are 18 months.

The service includes material on postnatal depression so that women and their partners can spot the signs of the condition.

The Royal College of Midwives is also concerned that more attention needs to be paid to sufferers of antenatal depression, which is less known and talked about than postnatal depression.

The RCM made the comments after a new poll found that more than a third of women who suffer depression during pregnancy have suicidal thoughts.

Health Minister Dan Poulter said: “The Government recognises that women with depression both during and after pregnancy need care and support, not stigma. That’s why early diagnosis and support for women and parents is so important, and it is midwives who provide the vital personalised, one to one care for women and families during pregnancy and childbirth.

“That is why the Government has invested in over 900 additional midwives working in the NHS since 2010.”

Health bosses yesterday announced the venue for a special meeting organised by North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny health committee to discuss plans to cut some maternity and children’s services from Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital has been changed. It will now be held at the Town Hall, Northallerton, at 7pm on November 22.