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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Soaring birth rate puts maternity services under strain

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

22nd January 2013 - A baby boom in England is making it hard to provide high quality care in the NHS, midwives are warning.

A report by The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says this has led to a fifth of women feeling they were not supported by the health service during pregnancy and birth, rising to a third who were unhappy with post-natal care.

The second annual survey by the RCM says that the year's "stand-out observation" is that the UK's baby boom, which has dominated the last decade, is petering out, but only in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. By contrast, the birth rate in England is at its highest since 1971.

In 2011, 688,120 babies were born in England, up more than 124,000 since 2001. There is also every indication of the trend continuing, with official projections pointing to a birth rate of 743,000 by 2014.

Training new midwives

The RCM says that England needs another 5,000 midwives to ensure the high quality services that women deserve. However, the good news is that the government is planning a record number of places for new student midwives in England during the current financial year - 2,578. It says this should help the number of midwives in training in England reach the 6,000 mark for the first time.

"More midwives are being employed in England, and the number of places for midwives in training is on the rise," says Cathy Warwick, RCM chief executive. "We are thankful for that, but efforts need to be redoubled because of the baby boom and the relentless rise in the number of babies being born, with some areas seeing more than a 50% rise in births in only a few years."

Older mums

The survey identifies additional reasons for the pressure on maternity services:

  • Mothers are getting older. In Scotland, for example, the number of births to women aged 45 or over more than tripled between 2001 and 2011. The number of babies born to women aged between 40 and 44 jumped 76%.
  • Fewer younger women and girls are giving birth. Wales saw a 34% drop in births to girls aged under 16. Scotland saw a 24% drop in babies born to women and girls aged under 20; in Northern Ireland it was 17%, and in England that drop was 18%.
  • Midwives are getting older. In England, between 2002 and 2011, the proportion of midwives aged 45 or over jumped from a third to a half. However, the report says the increases in training places may reverse this trend.

A shortage of midwives is worst in England, the RCM survey reports. The situation is satisfactory in Scotland, but it cautions about declining training places in Wales and Northern Ireland.

'Quick action': Minister

The Health Minister Dan Poulter says in an emailed statement: "It is because of the historical shortage in the number of midwives, that from day one, investing in maternity care has been a top priority for the Government. We have taken quick action and there now over 800 more midwives in the NHS since 2010, and there are also a record 5,000 midwives in training who will qualify in the next three years.

"The number of midwives is increasing faster than the birth rate. Most women already have choice and one-to-one maternity care, and we are working closely with the Royal College of Midwives to ensure that personalised, one to one maternity care is available for every woman across the country."

Reviewed on January 22, 2013

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