Midwifery and Maternity Services

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 23 January 2024.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

What steps she is taking to increase the recruitment and retention of NHS midwifery and maternity staff.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We are investing an additional £165 million a year to improve maternity and neonatal care, rising to £186 million a year from April. This will increase the number of midwifery posts and improve the quality of care that mothers and babies receive. As of October last year, there were 23,100 full-time equivalent midwives working in NHS trusts and other core organisations in England, which is more than 1,000 more than a year ago and 3,500 more than in 2010.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. The Royal College of Midwives estimates that there is a shortage of around 2,500 full-time midwives working in the NHS. I know that at first hand from Cossham Hospital in my constituency, which has a wonderful birth centre, but it has been closed for most of the last few years, because it simply cannot get the midwives to staff it—they have to go elsewhere where more serious cases need to be dealt with. What is she doing specifically about the retention of midwives? I know that student numbers are, thankfully, coming up, but a lot of midwives are choosing to leave the profession because there is not enough flexibility in their work.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I think we all agree that a career as a midwife is just one of the most rewarding and fulfilling careers that one can hope for. That is why we have placed such priority on retention in the long-term workforce plan that we launched last year. The national retention programme for midwifery and nursing has prioritised five actions to support staff retention, including menopause guidance, because we know that that can be an issue for midwives, and valuing them and their contribution is also a key objective of NHS England’s three-year plan for maternity services.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

As well as recruitment and retention, training matters. Anglia Ruskin University has a campus in Chelmsford and is the provider of the largest number of health and social care degrees in the country, training midwives, nurses and, since the medical school opened, doctors. Will the Secretary of State back the campaign to expand the medical school in Chelmsford so that we can train even more local people to work in our local NHS?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising her local college, which does amazing work for the whole of the NHS as well as in her local area. I may have to retain a discreet silence over that particular application but I know that if any Member is sure to advocate effectively for their local area, it is my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Minister (Women's Health and Mental Health)

Recruiting and retraining more NHS staff is crucial if women are to get gynaecology, obstetric and maternity care. I would like to share the story of Sandy Simmons. She was told 11 months ago that she needed surgery for a uterine prolapse; today, after nearly a year of pain, she is still waiting. Labour candidates such as Keir Cozens in Great Yarmouth are speaking up for women like Sandy and the 905 women waiting more than a year for treatment in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Will the Secretary of State apologise to these women—or, like the Prime Minister, will she just walk away?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I was genuinely delighted to welcome the hon. Lady to the Government’s women’s health summit last week to announce the consolidation, and indeed the improvement, of the women’s health strategy that this Government have launched. We saw significant success last year with hormone replacement therapy improvements and she knows, because she attended the summit, that I have just announced a £50 million research fund looking at maternity disparities and also research into female-specific conditions. Any concern she has about operation times she should take up with the local trust and it will perhaps tell her what impact industrial action has had, sadly, on elective surgery.