The Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) of the UK has raised an alarm over increasing shortage of midwives in many parts of the country at a time when birth rates are on the rise. It has expressed its concerns over the quality of midwifery care in such circumstances.
In its report, Support, Supervision and Safety, the council points out there is an increasing number of complex births and potential challenges, including substance abuse or obesity, in many areas.
NMC Chief Executive and Registrar, Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes said:
"Our report has raised a number of key concerns about the future of maternity services in the UK. An increasing birth rate was reported from all Local Supervising Authorities(LSAs), bar one, and this has had a significant impact on midwife to birth ratios in several areas.
"Although successful efforts have been made to boost the numbers of midwives in many regions, others are still lagging behind and this problem could worsen as a significant proportion of experienced midwives and supervisors of midwives are now approaching retirement age.
"The NMC urges maternity service providers, related health authorities and the UK health departments to monitor the situation and act swiftly if LSAs raise concerns about the quality of care provided to mothers and babies."
After analysing reports from all 26 of the UK's LSAs, the NMC identified encouraging progress in several areas, including good practice regarding service development for some of the most vulnerable families.
The report also raised concerns about the increased numbers of midwives recommended to undertake a period of supervised practice and the quality and variability of maternity data which is used to monitor trends and public health outcomes.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We have made it clear that maternity services should remain a priority for the NHS and have invested an additional Ģ330m, however, ring-fencing funding is out-dated and prevents the local NHS from spending budgets as it sees fit to meet the needs of local communities.
'We have set a goal to recruit an extra 4,000 midwives by 2012 and the NHS has already exceeded an interim target to recruit 1,000 by September this year which shows the high priority being given to maternity services.'
Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said the profession was 'still playing catch-up' as birth rates rose.
She said: 'This is a welcome report that identifies encouraging progress in maternity services, but also highlights the challenges facing maternity services of rising birth rates and more complex births.
'There is no doubt that the government is committed to increasing the number of midwives, and this is happening.
'However, we are still playing catch-up and there is still a long way to go to match midwife numbers to birth rates, and take the pressure off the system.
'The RCM is working with the government to increase midwife numbers.
'It is encouraging that supervisors of midwives to midwife ratios have improved in some areas.
'I would want to see concerted action to meet the recommended ratio in areas that are falling short.'