Midwife numbers are reaching a dangerous level which could put lives at risk, as records show more staff leaving than joining the profession for the first time in a decade.
As a record number suffer burnout and leave, the figures from NHS Digital for 2021/22 show almost 300 more staff abandoned midwifery than joined the service, with 3,440 leaving and only 3,144 coming in.
Analysis of the data showed a record 551 resigned in 2021 because of a lack of work-life balance.
The latest figures for May show pregnant women have the equivalent of 21,685 full-time midwives in England – down 551 on 12 months previously.
Midwives working in NHS trust maternity units typically work 12-hour shifts, but many work longer for no additional pay to cover staff shortages and to keep services running.
‘We don’t have enough midwives, and those we do have are underpaid, undervalued and overworked, said Joeli Brearley, chief executive of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says members are ‘at the end of their tether’ and ‘physically and emotionally burnt out’.
While some midwives who quit stay in the NHS and simply move trusts, there are warnings the exodus of those who leave permanently could threaten the safety of women having babies. There is a shortage of around 2,000 midwives, the RCM says.
Joeli Brearley, chief executive of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said: ‘We don’t have enough midwives, and those we do have are underpaid, undervalued and overworked.
‘This is a problem that has been communicated to the Government repeatedly for years. It is putting the lives of women and their babies in danger and causing untold damage to their mental and physical health. The Government needs to get a grip of the situation urgently before there are more tragedies.’
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Without enough midwives, support for mums-to-be will be inadequate, partnership with patients becomes difficult, care provided is unlikely to be compassionate, and we worry that care could drop to such a level that it’s no longer safe.’
Alice Sorby, of the RCM, said: ‘We have warned the Government time and time again that midwives, maternity support workers and all those working in maternity services are at the end of their tether, that they are physically and emotionally burnt out.
‘Maternity services cannot be run on the cheap. It is not safe and it is not sustainable.
‘The Government needs to set out a clear, costed action plan of how they intend to improve things.’
The findings come after a Care Quality Commission report warned mothers and babies were being put at risk, with almost half of maternity units potentially unsafe.
Regulators rated 80 out of 193 NHS maternity services as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ in their latest inspections. The low grades mean they do not meet basic safety standards, with some still failing years after problems were first identified.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of staff, including midwives, is a key priority.
‘We are aiming to hire 1,200 more midwives and 100 consultant obstetricians with a £95 million recruitment drive, on top of a £127 million NHS investment in maternity services over the next year.’