We must get workforce planning rights says RCM submitting evidence to workforce consultation

By Colin Beesley on 13 September 2021 NHS Staff NHS NHS England NHS Funding Midwife Shortage Midwifery Workforce Health Select Committee CQC - Care Quality Commission

Safe maternity care can only be achieved if we get the long-term maternity workforce planning right, says the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). It comes as the RCM submitted its response to a Health Education England (HEE) workforce Call for Evidence. This, says HEE, is to support the development of a ‘long-term strategic framework’ for health and social care workforce planning. The consultation closed on 6 September.

HEE aims to “get as detailed and broad a picture as possible of the future health and care workforce” and “build a workforce with the right skills, knowledge and values for now and the future”.

The RCM says that while the number of births has fallen over recent years, the demands on maternity services remain high because of the increasing complexity of many pregnancies and births. This is driven by more women with raised BMIs, and women having children later. Staffing numbers are simply not keeping pace with these changing demands, says the RCM.

“These demands are not going to go away and It’s so important that we get workforce planning, and their training needs right,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Head of Health and Social Policy at the RCM. “A failure to do this in the past is obvious in the present, with England around 2,000 full-time midwives short of the numbers needed, and a maternity workforce buckling under the weight under the pressures on them.”

Ensuring England has the safest possible maternity services is another pressing issue, says the RCM. Several high-profile reports into poor maternity care over recent years and many services rated by the Care Quality Commission as requiring improvement are driving many safety initiatives and will have a ripple effect for the next 10 to 15 years.

The RCM says that delivering these initiatives and responding to the many reports, reviews and recommendations will place even more demands on the midwifery workforce. This will need activity across a wide range of areas including a significant increase in specialist roles, and improvements in team culture. Services also need more midwifery roles with specialist knowledge and skills in areas of care for women who have traditionally had much poorer outcomes, including Black and Asian women, so that their care and outcomes improve. There must also be more input from services users into shaping maternity services as this is a key to making services safer says the RCM, but this also requires resources and staffing.

The RCM has also called for more funding for maternity services over and above the £95 million recently announced for staffing and training. The House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee said that an additional £200-£350 million per year is needed immediately to fund the wider maternity team moving forward, and the RCM supports this call.

“Women and their families deserve, and should get, a maternity service they can trust and that gives them the safest possible care. Its staff also deserve and expect a service that equips them to do this and looks after their wellbeing as well,” said Sean O’Sullivan. “We must see the funding and resources coming into the service now and maintained and adjusted to meet the pressures of the future. Getting this wrong again will only leave us in a similar place in 15 years or so to where we are now, and that cannot be allowed to happen.”