The Government must take urgent action reverse the growing crisis in NHS maternity care, Norman Lamb MP has warned, after ministers confirmed that the number of student midwives fell by more than 300 last year.
In response to a written parliamentary question from Mr. Lamb, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health, the Minister of State for Health Philip Dunne revealed that there were just 6,350 student midwives training at the end of 2015/16. This compares to 6,662 in the previous year, amounting to fall in the number of student midwives of almost 5%.
The figures were revealed on the same day that new maternity ratings were published, showing that maternity services in 74 per cent of CCGs are in need of improvement.
A recent report by the Royal College of Midwives also found that some maternity units are ‘dangerous’ as a result of overstretched staff and poor working conditions, warning that the NHS is facing an exodus of demoralised and overworked midwives.
The Government has published an action plan for ‘Safer maternity care’ to drive up the quality and safety of maternity services in the NHS, but Mr. Lamb has warned that ministers must provide evidence that the situation is improving quickly. He said:
“The alarming decline in the number of student midwives could have dangerous consequences when maternity services are already buckling under pressure. It is even more concerning given the risk that fewer staff will come from other parts of Europe following the Brexit vote.
“The blunt truth is that the NHS will not be able to properly care for mothers and their babies unless we are training enough midwives. New mothers are not being given the care and attention they deserve because staff are exhausted and rushed off their feet, and this must be addressed as a number one priority.
“The recent measures announced by the Government are welcome, but there will need to be immediate evidence that progress is being made. We cannot afford to let this crisis turn into a catastrophe.
“The Secretary of State must provide cast-iron assurances that more midwives will be trained next year. After the removal of student bursaries, it is vital that new incentives are put in place to ensure that midwifery remains a viable, attractive and rewarding career path for people from all backgrounds.”