Babies, it’s true, rarely telegraph their arrival. As the Health minister Dr Dan Poulter spells out, for the uninitiated or very sheltered: “Maternity services are unable to plan the exact time and place of birth.” All the more reason to ensure that our maternity wards have a little spare capacity, to allow them to save lives when emergencies do arise. Instead, England alone has a shortfall of 2,300 midwives. Too many units are overstretched, putting babies and mothers at risk. As our political and health team reports today (page 7), a staggering one-fifth of the entire NHS maternity budget is spent on medical negligence.
All this is dangerous for David Cameron – not to mention the mites who come squawking into the world. Let’s remember: Britain is still one of the safest countries in which to give birth, or to be born, marginally better than America. You are 10 times more likely to die in the first month of your life in the “Bric” powerhouse India, for instance. But before the general election, Mr Cameron promised to increase the number of midwives in England by 3,000. Only 1,300 posts have been created, and Britain’s birth rate is at a 40-year high. (The Royal College of Midwives argues that even fewer new jobs have been conjured up.)
Midwives are a relatively cheap means of ensuring that our newborns and their mothers get the support they need – so critical when things do go awry. While it may be impractical to have the same midwife all the way through labour, having any midwife remains a reasonable expectation – and indicative of a developed, prosperous society.