The Royal College of Midwives has this week released its “State of Maternity Services Report 2015”; an annual publication in which it releases data about the number of practicing Midwives in the UK and various statistics regarding births, sorted by region and age of mother.
The key message running through the report is ‘we need more and younger midwives’. As with most other highly skilled roles within the NHS, new Midwives are being trained each year, but not at the rate required to meet the projected increase in new births in the coming years. Even today, we are already 2,618 Midwives short on what our population require, despite 2,500 new Midwives entering the profession each year.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of Midwives will be approaching retirement age within the next decade, revealing a ticking time bomb which could result in hospital and communities being gravely understaffed at a time when Midwifery services are needed most. In the last 10 years, 98% of newly trained midwives in England were over 50, restricting the longevity of their service and potentially leaving a large deficit of experienced senior midwives in the future.
The main factors behind an increase in need for Midwives is the growing population, partly due to organic growth and partly due to immigration. The Report also points out that despite a 40% decrease in the number of teenage pregnancies in the last decade, there has been an 80% increase in women over the age of 40 giving birth, and nearly an increase of 35% of women over 35. This ultimately means that a higher number of women are giving birth in England each year, stretching the services to the limit.
The dangers presented by the shortages are self-explanatory. As the number of patients a Midwife is responsible for increases, the amount of time spent with that patient and quality of care provided drops, despite the Midwives’ best efforts. In it’s Report, the Royal College of Midwives says
If a shortage did not exist, midwives would be able to spend more time with women antenatally helping them quit smoking, for example … when there are not enough midwives it is the quality of the service that women receive that suffer.
It then goes on to say
With NICE having now published safe staffing guidelines for maternity, trusts in England that provide maternity care should know how many midwives they need to employ. Any failure to employ enough midwives and any consequences that flow from that failure must rest with the senior managers who continue to choose not to staff their service safely.
This is a clear message to the NHS to do what it can to increase the number of young Midwives quickly, or face the consequences, which usually end up being clinical negligence claims for birth injuries. Birth injuries often occur when key pointers of foetal distress are missed and delivery take place too late. Symptoms can also often be missed early on in the pregnancy, during routine appointments. One of the most common birth injuries is oxygen starvation, which can occur during a delayed or complicated birth, and can lead to serious and life changing conditions such as Cerebral Palsy.
Birth injuries are the most expensive type of claim against the NHS, this is due to the fact that sufferers of Cerebral Palsy and other life changing injuries have a high need for care and equipment, which lasts the entirety of their lives. They are very complicated cases, which take a lot of input from lawyers and experts to prove the case. The cost of recruiting and training additional midwives is far more cost effective than such claims, with each case potentially costing the NHS lump sums of £2million or £3million, with annual payments thereafter of anywhere between £100,000 and £400,000+ for the rest of the child’s life.
A copy of the Report can be found on the Royal College’s website.
If you or someone or you know may have suffered from a birth injury, contact our specialist lawyers on 0800 316 8892.