Urgent action required over Lothian midwife staff shortage

Rising birth rates and ageing midwife staff are a concern. Stock image
Rising birth rates and ageing midwife staff are a concern. Stock image
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MORE than one in three midwives in Lothian are over the age of 50, sparking fears of a retirement timebomb.

And today health chiefs were urged to take urgent action to make sure there were enough midwives and other health professionals to care for the area’s growing population.

Official statistics show 36 per cent of Lothian’s 455 midwifery staff are over 50. The number of heath visitors in the region who are nearing retirement is similar. And a report on district nurses in Edinburgh shows 57 per cent of those in the key grades are over 50.

A report by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) on maternity services across the UK, published earlier this week, warned high birthrates, increasingly complex births and older mothers meant a growing workload for midwives. It cited almost 1000 extra births in Lothian between 2003 and 2015, a jump of over 11 per cent.

And it said it was increasing difficult to ensure women were all getting the right levels of advice and support in their pregnancy.

The report said across Scotland, midwifery staff over 50 now constituted 41 per cent of the workforce, the highest in the UK, while the number of younger midwives was falling.

Mary Ross-Davie, RCM director for Scotland, said midwives heading for retirement needed replaced in good time.

She said: “Scotland’s maternity services are very good but there are signs that it is beginning to buckle as demand rises. Our government and our NHS need to show even more that they value maternity services, that they value midwives and that they value the women, babies and their families that the service cares for.”

Lothian Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said written answers he had received from the Scottish Government revealed a similar situation among health visitors in Lothian, with 32.4 per cent over the age of 55, compared with a national average of 25 per cent.

And a report last month by Lothian’s chief nurse highlighted a looming problem in district nurse numbers. Out of 70 “Band 6” caseload holder posts, 20 per cent are currently vacant.

The report noted: “This is creating a significant pressure within the service and this trend is predicted to continue.”

The report added: “It is difficult to recruit trained and ­experienced district nurses and there is a UK-wide shortage of such staff.”

It said 11 trainee district nurses had been recruited in 2006 to do masters degrees at Queen Margaret University, “however, this number is inadequate to fill the current and pending gap across Lothian. There is an urgent need to recruit and train additional district nurses.”

Mr Briggs said: “The ageing profile of the health visitor, district nurse and midwifery workforce across Scotland and in Lothian is extremely concerning.”

Professor Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian executive director for nursing and midwifery, said: “We continue recruit to vacancies as soon as they arise and work continues on attracting and retaining a high quality workforce.”