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Is Midwifery in Crisis?



Is Midwifery in Crisis?

NHS maternity services are “reaching crisis point” according to a new report published by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) on 6th February 2017.

Without immediate action, this looks to be a situation which will only worsen.


The Problem

Over a third of the UK’s current NHS midwives are nearing retirement age, and simply, there are not nearly enough new midwives coming into the profession to replace them.

Less midwives have been choosing to enter the profession for many reasons, but the removal of training bursaries, as shown by figures released by UCAS, has also shown a dramatic drop in application numbers. With bursaries no longer available to train in midwifery, students are left needing to take out loans and pay tuition fees, leaving them with debts when they qualify of around £60,000.

Given that midwifery has always attracted applicants who already have a degree, or who have had their own children first, these kinds of debts will undoubtedly not just put off, but prevent many from being able to train, as they shoulder considerable financial obligations and considerations already.

Meanwhile, as midwife shortages look set to worsen, maternity care is put under even more stress, as the number of babies being born each year, continues to increase. The number of births in England in 2015 was over 50,000 higher than ten years ago and over 100,000 more than in 2001.

The excessive workloads and poor staffing levels are also causing midwives to choose to leave the profession, as they feel it impacts on the quality of care they are able to give. A report – ‘Why Midwives Leave’ – from the RCM in 2016, surveyed over 2000 midwives across the UK who had left the profession in the last two years or were intending to leave in the next two years.


The Impact on Families

These reports from the RCM, give context to the findings of a recent study by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI). This study was based on a survey of 2,500 women who have given birth since 2014, and highlights some of the issues faced directly by families using these maternity services, even showing how during labour many reported feeling unsafe and frightened, or as if they are being treated “like cattle” or “on a conveyor belt”.

The study demonstrated how care was being affected, with figures which showed over 30% of women needed to wait over 30 minutes for pain relief, 28% of women who needed medication either during or following the birth experienced a delay, and 15% said there were delays in their immediate post-birth care, such as washing or suturing.

It seems apparent that many families are not getting the care, support and advice they need during and after their pregnancy – midwives’ workloads are just too high to deliver the support they know that families want and need.  As well as leaving women and their partners feeling frightened and alone during their birth, it also has a huge knock on effect following birth, in terms of issues around adequate support for breastfeeding, mental health support for postnatal depression, and physical wellbeing. 

In light of this situation, it is even more crucial that families are as best prepared as possible for how to support themselves, during birth and postnatally.

Read more about how to prepare to be the best birth partner possible here

With the recent decision from the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) to prohibit Independent Midwives practising, as well as a host of other changes to the profession, it appears the strains on the current services will only increase. <Read more here>

It is apparent that the UK needs more midwives.

What do you think should be done to address this midwifery crisis?

Tell us below.



Dean Beaumont is the Family Editor at as well as the founder of DaddyNatal and DaddyNatal Online.


He is also the author of The Expectant Dads Handbook and The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.


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