Blog > These improvements are testament to the impact that a rise in midwife numbers can have – Cathy Warwick, CEO RCM, on NHS Maternity Survey 2015 results


16
December

Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive Royal College of Midwives (RCM)

These improvements are testament to the impact that a rise in midwife numbers can have – Cathy Warwick, CEO RCM, on NHS Maternity Survey 2015 results

I always look forward to reading the Care Quality Commission’s periodic national maternity surveys. They help all of us involved in NHS maternity care in England to pause and reflect on the experiences of thousands of women – over 20,000, in fact – who have recently used the service. It is always important to ensure that their voices are central to the development of our maternity services.

It is always important to ensure that mothers’ voices are central to the development of our maternity services

And there is quite a lot of good news in the newly published survey. It revealed, for example, that the number of women being given a choice of where to give birth was up. The proportion of women offered a choice of giving birth in a midwife-led unit or a birth centre improved from 35 per cent in 2013 to 41 per cent this year. Continuity of care improved too, although only slightly. Over one woman in three reported that they saw the same midwife at every antenatal appointment, up two per cent to 36 per cent.

Women were also happier about how they were cared for. Eighty-nine per cent of women said that during their antenatal care they were “always” spoken to in a way they could understand, up seven per cent since 2007. There was also a small rise in the proportion of women who said they were always treated with dignity and respect during labour and birth, up two points from 2013 to 87 per cent this year.

Put simply, more pregnant women are getting better maternity care than before – and that is great news

These improvements – some modest, some more dramatic – are testament to the impact that a rise in midwife numbers can have. The survey was of women who gave birth in February 2015, and in that month there were the equivalent of almost 22,250 full-time midwives working in the NHS in England. That was up over 2,100 since 2010. That means that there were more midwives available across the health service to care for women needing maternity care. Staff numbers really can and do make a difference to the quality of care that women receive.

And it’s for this reason that it is so important and equally unfortunate that since the women in this survey received their care, NHS in England is now employing almost 500 fewer midwives. Indeed, our latest estimate is that England is 2,600 midwives short of where it needs to be. The Government needs to continue to ensure more student midwives are trained and that these newly-qualified midwives are then recruited into the NHS.

It is so important and equally unfortunate that since the women in this survey received their care, NHS in England is now employing almost 500 fewer midwives. Indeed, our latest estimate is that England is 2,600 midwives short of where it needs to be. The Government needs to continue to ensure more student midwives are trained and that these newly-qualified midwives are then recruited into the NHS.

And I am sure that it is directly because of this shortage that the survey also found several areas for improvement. Take, for example, the fact that slightly more women were left alone at a time that worried them during early labour in this survey compared to the previous one. This figure was about one in seven women (14 per cent), or around 90,000 if we extrapolate out across the year as a whole. That is 90,000 too many.

The Royal College of Midwives is pushing constantly for improvements in the care that women receive, and this survey has found that care is getting better. That is great, positive news, which all midwives will welcome. But we are very far from being in a place where we can rest on our laurels. There is lots of room for improvement, certainly when it comes to women having a midwife with them at all times when they need it. But it is surveys like this that can and will inform the work of driving that improvement.

Tags: Maternity Survey, NHS, NHS England, patient experience, Royal College Midwives.

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