Maternity care facing retirement time bomb

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The safety of Scottish maternity services could be under threat if ministers fail to address a “retirement time bomb”, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said.

A rise in the number of births and a rapidly ageing midwifery workforce has prompted the RCM to issue a call today for more midwifery training places in Scotland as part of its new “State of Maternity Services Report”.

The midwifery union raised concerns over the fact that the number of staff in their 50s and 60s in Scotland soared by a third between June 2011 and June this year, while the number of staff under the age of 50 fell by 11 per cent during the same time period.

Gillian Smith, director of RCM Scotland, said: “Let’s be clear, Scotland does not currently have a midwife shortage, and hasn’t in living memory. However, if action is not taken now, there is a very real risk that we could have one.”

Scotland has seen a steady rise in the number of births over the last decade with 56,725 babies born last year as well as an increase in older women giving birth who might experience more complications.

Dr Smith said: “We must ensure that the service is able to meet the needs of women such as the older mothers and of course the additional pressures on services from issues such as increasing levels of obesity and ill-health in pregnancy.

“This means planning to have the right numbers of staff to meet their needs and that means getting the right numbers of midwives in training, right now.

“If action is not taken immediately I believe there could be serious consequences for the quality and even the safety of Scottish maternity services.”

As a result of these findings the RCM argues that midwifery training numbers in Scotland must be maintained at the present levels but ideally should rise.

Mothers and babies will suffer if the number of midwives falls, warned Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients Association.

She said: “We need to be able to provide these services in the community, so mothers don’t have to travel long distances for care.

“This shortage should have been predicted. It is a serious situation and everyone is trying to hold the service together on goodwill. But sadly the goodwill is starting to wear thin.”

She added: “We need to make sure the trainee midwives feel supported and not frightened that they will have to work without back up or help.”

Public health minister Maureen Watt said a review into maternity and neonatal services had begun in February to address the issues raised.

She said: “Overall, NHS Scotland meets the RCM recommended midwife to birth ratio, however it is important not to be complacent and that is why we have developed a maternity workload and workforce planning tool, which is applied regularly within our maternity services.

“We will continue working with our key stakeholders, including RCM, to ensure we have the right numbers of midwives in training and in the workforce and this year we increased the student midwife intake by eight per cent.”