Babies in danger on overstretched maternity wards - while midwives cannot find jobs


Last updated at 22:17 03 May 2008

The Government was accused last night of putting lives at risk because of a chronic shortage of jobs for midwives.

A shock survey published today by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) concludes that overstretched maternity services face breaking point because cash-strapped NHS trusts are cutting the number of positions available.

Despite large numbers being trained to fill posts, the trusts are diverting resources elsewhere.

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Helen O'Brien

Stress: Helen O'Brien is still looking for a midwife post two years after she qualified

The survey reveals that scores of midwifery graduates are having to become administrators or work in the private sector because they cannot find jobs in the NHS as much as two years after leaving university.

More than 90 per cent of final-year midwifery students are struggling to find a job and 81 per cent claim the move to degree-only training will affect them financially. Ten per cent have debts of £7,000 to £9,000.

The survey of 170 students shows that morale in the junior ranks of the profession is at an all-time low.

Training places in England have dropped by 16 per cent – from 2,374 to 1,990 – in the past two years because of Government cuts in maternity services even though the birth rate is rising.

The crisis has come despite a pledge by Health Secretary Alan Johnson

to inject an extra £122million into maternity care and increase the number of midwives by 3,400 over the next three years.

Midwives' leaders say that women or their babies could die as a direct result of staffing shortages.

They say midwives in hospitals are having to run from room to room to attend to up to three different women in labour, despite Government assurances that each new mother will be assigned an individual midwife.

RCM general secretary Dame Karlene Davis said: "This survey confirms what we have been saying for some time – that morale among student midwives is declining because of their accumulated debts and uncertainty about job prospects.

"A one-year job guarantee for newly qualified midwives would ensure that they are brought and welcomed into the profession and NHS trusts."

The state of maternity services in England was criticised in a report by the Healthcare Commission in January which found that 40 per cent of maternity units provided a poor or below average standard of care.

There are approximately 19,000 midwives in England but another 5,000 are needed to bring maternity services up to strength, according to the RCM, which represents more than 95 per cent of midwives.

The starting salary is £19,683 and £23,458 for those in London.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley attacked the jobs shortage as "shocking".

He said last night: "There is no doubt that this poses a risk to mothers and their unborn children.

"The Government must make sure that patient care is not compromised and that it does more to deliver its promise to provide one-to-one midwifery care to pregnant women."

Midwives say the pressures on maternity units has increased because of a rising birth rate and more women entering Britain from the EU to have babies.

Helen O'Brien, 36, gained a first-class degree in midwifery in Plymouth, Devon, two years ago but is still looking for a job as a midwife.

The mother of one, who works in a private nursing home but plans to move to the South East to find a suitable job, said: "This isn't what I trained to do. My relationship has broken up because of the stress and I've suffered from depression because my dream has been shattered.

"The Government's promise of quality of care in midwifery is an illusion. Women never see their midwives because there just aren't enough. Midwives are overstretched and many are leaving the profession."

Sue Jacob, student services adviser for the RCM, said: "The outlook for jobs is bleak."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "This is unacceptable scaremongering which does not reflect the evidence."

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