Lothians labouring under a shortage of midwives

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CONCERNS have been raised about a shortage of midwives in Edinburgh after new figures showed there are fewer staff per birth in the Lothians than anywhere else in Scotland.

NHS Lothian is said to have 3.2 midwives per 100 births in the area, below both Glasgow at 3.9 and the national average of 4.1.

It comes ahead of a long-awaited new birthing unit opening at Little France, and has sparked calls for more staff to be recruited at the same time.

Health bosses insist they have confidence in the level of care being provided, and the figures may be skewed by the way midwife numbers are counted across the country. However, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says it is concerned.

RCM director in Edinburgh, Gillian Smith, said: “There’s no point in having a new birthing centre if the staff aren’t there to run it. We’ve got to push for a better ratio because it is all about patient safety.”

Maternity services in the Lothians have been criticised in the past for being too cramped, with overworked midwives.

On numerous occasions the unit at the ERI has had to close, forcing mothers in labour to be redirected to St John’s Hospital in Livingston, more than 20 miles away.

The opening of the new unit at Little France has been delayed because of problems between NHS Lothian and PFI partner Consort. It is understood the 12 midwives who will work there are already on the staff of NHS Lothian.

As recommended, NHS Lothian does not employ midwives to work in neo-natal units to carry out largely nursing jobs, whereas other health boards do. This could push up the number seen to be employed but who are not working directly in maternity.

Nevertheless, the ratio in Edinburgh still works out at more than 31 births per midwife, breaching safety guidelines.

Richard Simpson, the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP who asked for the information through the Scottish Parliament, said: “Birth rates increased steadily from 2003 by about ten per cent, so it can’t have taken anyone by surprise.

“NHS Lothian has the lowest number [of midwives] and should look very carefully at the strain being placed on [them].”

Melanie Hornett, nursing director for NHS Lothian said: “As always, we aim to provide safe and individualised maternity care for women. We regularly assess staffing levels on our maternity wards and in the community to ensure we continue to provide the best possible standards of care.

“Our midwives are supported by other members of the clinical team, such as medical staff, maternity care assistance and clinical support workers.”

amorris@edinburghnews.com

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