The Royal College of Midwives has today made a plea to NHS leaders to protect the safety of pregnant women by ringfencing maternity services in the current crisis.
There is concern that vital staff, including midwives and maternity support workers, will be redeployed to other areas, at a time when a survey of senior midwives found that the shortage of midwives on NHS maternity units has doubled since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The survey of heads and directors of midwifery from across the UK, carried out by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), found that, even before the outbreak, services were struggling to get by with almost one in 10 midwifery posts vacant. Survey respondents now report that this shortage has doubled to 20%.
The coronavirus itself as well as self-isolation has combined with existing staff vacancies to mean one in five midwife roles are currently unstaffed today.
Commenting on the survey results Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: “While other areas of the health service can postpone and cancel procedures, there is still an ongoing need for maternity services.
“Women are still pregnant, still having babies, and they need the care and support of properly resourced maternity services.
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“We have to ensure that midwives and maternity support workers are ringfenced from any redeployment to ensure that women continue to receive safe care.
“What this survey shows is that coronavirus is exposing the gaps that already exist in maternity services. The shortage of midwives has doubled since the start of the outbreak, a situation which is only likely to worsen as the pandemic spreads further.”
Over a fifth (22%) of survey respondents also reported that local midwife-led maternity units had been closed, with more than a third (36%) of areas also either stopping (32%) or restricting (4%) homebirths.
In 11 cases the midwife-led unit has been closed to provide facilities to assess or care for coronavirus patients.
Nearly eight out of 10 midwifery leaders (78%) reported ending routine face-to-face antenatal and postnatal visits, with a further nine per cent restricting just face-to-face postnatal visits.
Heads and directors of midwifery reported confusion about what should happen to midwives with long-term health conditions or who live with someone with conditions that put them at greater risk, and the impact their self-isolation would have on staff shortages.
Ms Walton added: “We have to protect the maternity front door and continue to provide the levels of care and support pregnant women need.
“We need to do all we can to make sure the maternity workforce is kept well and healthy as much as possible. The testing of NHS staff is an urgent priority.”
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