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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 11:47 GMT
Midwives warn of staff shortages
Midwife checking a baby
Midwives say their service has been neglected
The standard of care provided to women having babies is suffering because of low morale and staff shortages, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned.

The college says the pressure on staff in England is driving midwives to leave the profession and deterring trained staff who have already left the NHS from returning to work.


When midwives join the service, they're so stressed out that they leave and don't come back

Karlene Davis, RCM
The result is that nearly one hospital in three cannot provide women with one-to-one care during labour and the RCM says mothers and babies could be put at risk.

MPs have launched a new all-party committee to investigate standards of maternity care across the country.

The government insists that numbers of midwives are increasing but the college says the profession continuing to lose qualified staff.

Birth risks

"There is a huge gap between what is said at a national level as policy and what people working in the profession are experiencing," the RCM's General Secretary, Karlene Davis told the BBC.

"When midwives join the service, they're so stressed out that they leave and don't come back."

Karlene Davis
Karlene Davis: "Huge gap between policy and reality"
Last year only two thirds of deliveries were carried out by a midwife rather than an obstetrician, compared to almost three quarters in 1996.

Caesarean sections now account for almost one in five births, despite evidence that unnecessary medical intervention can be harmful to mother and baby.

And earlier this month a leading doctor warned that a lack of midwives was contributing to the number of babies suffering brain damage at birth.

Regional variations

The government has pledged to supply an extra 20,000 nurses and midwives by 2004 but it is unclear how many of those will be midwives.


Since the election this government has increased the number of midwives working in the NHS

Health Minister Yvette Cooper
Recent research showed that out of the 5,744 midwives working in the NHS this year, 550 had joined in the last 12 months but 531 had left, making a net gain of just 19 more staff.

But Health Minister Yvette Cooper said numbers were rising and blamed the previous Conservative administration for under-investment in the service.

"Since the election this government has increased the number of midwives working in the NHS, it's going up, it has to go up further and that is absolutely clear," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

However Julia Drown MP, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Maternity Care launched on Wednesday, said the standard of care needed to improve.

"Maternity services care for over 600,000 women and babies each year and yet there are huge variations in the quality of service women receive nationally.

"Some women may not receive specialist care when it is needed, while others may be put at risk by unnecessary medical intervention," she said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"Midwives are ward rounds are becoming increasingly strained"
See also:

07 Nov 00 | Health
18 May 00 | Health
09 Dec 99 | Health
28 Aug 99 | Health
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