'No shortage of midwives at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals' bosses reassure parents, despite gloomy national and international picture

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Lancashire is bucking the trend on midwife numbers, according to hospital bosses.

While the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned of services being stretched almost to breaking point due to a national shortage of 2,000 midwives and the United Nationals saying there is a global shortage of 900,000, the Trust which runs the Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley Hospital says it has no problems.

Latest figures sent to the Post as part of a Freedom of Information request show that in April 2021, there were 157.35 WTE (Whole Time Equivalent) midwives employed by the Trust, with 43 agency midwives used, and a bank of 328 NHS midwives used.

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Ratios of midwifes to patients were requested, but not provided. In April there were 343 births across the Trust.

There is a national and international shortage of midwivesThere is a national and international shortage of midwives
There is a national and international shortage of midwives

The latest Trust board papers show that in April, there was 100 per cent one-to-one care in labour in Preston Birth Centre, Preston's Delivery Suite and Chorley Birth Centre.

The figure was 99 per cent for the Delivery Suite from June - October 2020, and from December 2020 to March 2021. It was 99 per cent for Preston Birth Centre in July 2020 and 98 per cent in April 2020, October 2020 and March 2021.

To achieve 100 per cent compliance in one-to-one care all round, a recruitment campaign has been signed off for six additional WTE (whote time equivalant) roles to backfull a staffing deficit due to maternity leave. The deadline for recruitment is July 31.

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A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said: “We are very proud to say that, despite the upheaval of the past year with Covid-19 affecting all areas of healthcare in all parts of the country, that we have maintained the levels of midwives on staff to handle the demand on the maternity unit.

“There is currently no shortage of midwives at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals which means we are able to provide patients which the level care they deserve.”

What's the national picture?

A survery by the RCM found that eight out of 10 midwives (83 per cent) do not believe their NHS Trust or Board has enough staff to operate a safe service. Services are already stretched almost to breaking point, with 42 per cent reporting that half of shifts are understaffed, and a third saying there are very significant gaps in most shifts.

These shortages are taking their toll on midwives and maternity support workers, with morale suffering. Seven out of 10 (71 per cent) say they have considered leaving the profession, while over a third (38 per cent) seriously thinking about it.

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Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “These are dedicated professionals caring for women, babies and their families through the enormous pressures of the pandemic.

"They are being pushed to the edge by the failure of successive governments to invest in maternity services. Maternity staff are exhausted, they’re demoralised and some of them are looking for the door. For the safety of every pregnant woman and every baby, this cannot be allowed to continue.”

Targets set in 2010 by Prime Minister David Cameron to increase the number of midwives by 3000 have failed to materialise 10 years on. Instead, the RCM said many Trusts and Boards are having to operate a ‘make do and mend’ service that relies on staff working beyond their contracted hours.

That overtime is often unpaid, with the RCM’s survey finding that nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of midwives are working beyond their contracted hours for no additional pay.

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The RCM believe the national shortage of midwives is as a result of many factors making the profession less attractive, including the re-introduction of fees for training putting student midwives off due to debt, years of pay restraint, and lack of flexible working.

They also said that while the birth rate remains steady, midwives are now seeing women with more complex pregnancies as well and they require more care.

Also, women are choosing to have children later in life, which often means they need more care due to underlying health conditions.

What's the international picture?

According to the United Nations (UN), the world is currently facing a shortage of 900,000 midwives, which represents a third of the required global midwifery workforce.

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It claims the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated these problems, with the health needs of women and newborns being overshadowed, midwifery services being disrupted and midwives being deployed to other health services.

It states that the acute shortage of midwives is exacting a terrible global toll in the form of preventable deaths. An analysis conducted for the UN, published in the Lancet last December, showed that fully resourcing midwife-delivered care by 2035 could avert 67 per cent of maternal deaths, 64 per cent of newborn deaths and 65 per cent of stillbirths. It could save an estimated 4.3 million lives per year.

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