Midwife shortages, birth centre closures and a baby boom: Why women are facing the biggest maternity crisis of our time

Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director Midwife at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) told GLAMOUR: “The bottom line is we have too few midwives in the UK, particularly in England where there is a shortage of over 2,000 midwives. Understaffing compromises the delivery of safe care.”

She added: “Midwives themselves are desperately worried they cannot deliver the care they want to due to understaffing. It’s time for the Government to wake up and take urgent action. How can they sit back and continue to watch after years of underinvestment in UK maternity services which is now resulting in widespread safety issues.”

According to the RCM, things are about to get a lot worse as recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show there were 10,000 more births across the country from 2020 to 2021. “At the same time midwife numbers have dropped across all the English regions increasing the overall shortage of midwives.”

Harlev-Lam said midwives are working their hardest “in a system that is against them” and said even “vital training is postponed” because there aren’t enough staff on shift.

She told GLAMOUR newly qualified midwives are reconsidering their careers after joining the NHS “at breaking point” while experienced midwives feel forced to leave “due to the unsustainable pressures which are impacting their physical and mental health.”

She added: “The Government can no longer ignore the crisis engulfing maternity services .They owe women, their families, and maternity staff urgent action now to address the issues, they cannot allow this desperate crisis to continue to unfold in front of them.”

This week, over 30 organisations representing the maternity sector signed a letter to the government, coordinated by UK charity Birthrights, calling for “urgent and meaningful intervention” to make their 2019 manifesto commitment of making the “NHS the ‘best place in the world to give birth” a reality.

An NHS England spokesperson told GLAMOUR: “The NHS is committed to providing safe maternity services and is taking significant action to improve care for pregnant women and their babies, including a £127 million investment this year to boost our workforce, strengthen leadership and increase neonatal cot capacity – which is on top of an annual boost of £95 million for recruitment and training announced last year.”

GLAMOUR reached out to our new health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey to find out what urgent measures the government will take with improving maternity services.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told us: ”We want the NHS to be the safest place in the world to give birth. That’s why we’ve invested £127 million, including more than £50 million to boost staff numbers in maternity and neonatal services across the country, £34 million for culture and leadership programmes, and £45 million to increase the number neonatal cots across England.

“Additionally, £95 million has been invested to recruit 1,200 more midwives and 100 more consultant obstetricians, to ensure we have the staff in place to deliver high-quality care”

I, like many, am an avid supporter of the principles of the NHS and understand the pressures it faces but however much indebted we feel, the current state of the maternity crisis needs to be challenged and we need to see vast and visible change which impacts maternity care at every level. While promises of funding and investment might sound great on paper, is this really reaching the places it needs to be? Is the government actually taking the situation seriously?

As women we are expected to be grateful for the care we receive rather than apoplectic. Don’t be afraid to raise concerns, make a fuss, hold your ground, fight your cause.

For a department so intrinsic to a nation’s survival, it’s high-time someone listened.