The average age of maternity staff is increasing. Last year was the first year on record that there were more than 1,000 midwives over the age of 60 working on maternity wards across the UK. With many due for retirement, alarm bells are starting to ring over how the NHS service will cope with such a collapse in numbers of experienced staff.
According to the State of Maternity Report, released by the Royal College of Midwifery, there is a gap of around 2,600 midwifery positions across the NHS, which is expected to increase as the health service is simply not taking on enough new staff to be able to cope with the increasing chasm.
Cathy Warwick, RCM chief executive, said: “It is deeply frustrating for midwives that they cannot provide the quality of maternity care that they want to deliver because they are so short-staffed.
“What worries me in particular is the retirement time bomb that our report unearths. Not only in England, but across the UK, we are not seeing enough new midwives being taken on.
“Many older midwives will, of course, be very experienced, and they are able to mentor and support newer, younger midwives. But they won’t be around in the maternity units forever.”
The report goes on to note that record numbers of women are having children in their late 30s and early 40s. This generational change in the age that people are having children at is putting additional pressure on the already acute shortage of midwives, because older women require more care and attention during childbirth.
“All women deserve the very best care, regardless of the age at which they give birth. Women have every right to give birth later in life and we support that. But typically, older women will require more care during pregnancy, and that means more midwives are needed,” Warwick continued.
The report found that at least 110,000 babies have been born to women aged 35-39 over the last ten years, a figure that was last seen just after World War II, when couples were forced to put off having children due to the ranging conflict. This, of course, created what would later become known as the ‘baby boom’ generation, because of the spike in pregnancies that occurred when peace was declared.