If the Holy Family were looking for a midwife today, they would be in serious difficulty. As the birth rate has soared, many NHS trusts have seen their midwives disappear, figures obtained by the Tories show.
One in 20 midwife posts is vacant, almost one in 10 maternity support worker posts is unfilled and one in five units has reduced midwife numbers in the past year, the Tories claimed.
Some maternity units have vacancy rates above 20 per cent and the highest cuts exceed 50 per cent. The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act are based on a survey of all 227 maternity units, of which 157 (69 per cent) responded. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it did not recognise the figures but acknowledged that there might be "pockets" where midwife numbers were falling.
"As far as we are aware, the overall number of midwives has been rising," a spokesman said. However, it has not risen fast enough. Over the past five years, according to the college, the total number of midwives has increased 7 per cent to 19,700 full-time equivalents, but the birth rate has soared by 16 per cent.
Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the college, said on Monday that £330m allocated to maternity services over the next three years had not reached the front line and appeared to have been diverted to other areas by primary care trusts.
Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, pledged 4,000 extra midwives by 2012 (3,400 full-time equivalents). The RCM said an extra 5,000 full-time equivalents are needed.
The Health minister, Ann Keen, said: "Claims that midwife numbers are falling are utter nonsense. Furthermore, the latest figures show vacancy rates for hard-to-fill midwife posts – those unfilled for three months or more – was only 0.8 per cent."
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