Hundreds of thousands of mothers are being discharged from hospital too early because of a chronic shortage of midwives, a new report warns.
Research by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) found that 40 per cent of new mums are told to leave their ward before they are ready.
Experts warned mothers are being “let down by the NHS” and lives are being put at risk - and called for immediate investment to appoint more midwives.
The report also warned that local hospitals are failing to give women the level of care recommended by NHS watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).
Two-thirds of midwives said organisational pressures in the over-stretched NHS is the biggest factor when determining the level of care mothers receive.
Jane Munro, the report’s author and the quality and audit development adviser at the RCM, said: “This report shows us that mothers are being let down by the NHS.”
She said mothers are being discharged early and not being given enough advice about how to spot danger signs in their and their baby’s health - meaning there could be a delay in diagnosing serious illnesses.
“It could mean that illnesses are not picked up quickly enough, or it could even put lives in danger,” she said.
“The shortage of midwives is a continual issue. There has been a commitment to have more midwives, but we still have yet to see them on the ground. There is a severe shortage across the NHS.
“At the moment organisational pressures drive care, and that is quite disappointing. Nice clearly states that discussion should happen with mothers, and that is clearly not happening.
“The midwives just don’t have the time. They are just so overstretched they are run off their feet.”
Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the UK’s largest charity for parents, NCT, said it was unacceptable if mothers are discharged early because of staff shortages or lack of beds.
“It is also deeply frustrating that Nice guidelines on postnatal care are still not being implemented,” she added. “We need to see a rise in the number of midwives and better continuity of care so women have access to a midwife they know and trust - which leads to better outcomes for parents and babies.”
More than 3,000 midwives and student midwives and nearly 500 mothers were surveyed about the care they received for the RCM’s report.