NHS: Over 3,000 more midwifery training places offered
More than 3,000 places on midwifery training courses are to be created over the next four years in England as part of plans to meet NHS staffing demands.
The government has announced a 25% boost in training places, which it said amounted to the "largest ever" increase in NHS midwives and maternity staff.
The Royal College of Midwives welcomed the move but said training more midwives was only half of the problem.
The plan needs investment and time to make it work, the RCM added.
An extra 650 midwifery training places will be created next year, followed by 1,000 new places for the three subsequent years.
The news came after midwives, along with more than one million NHS staff, were offered pay increases of at least 6.5% over three years.
Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt will officially announce the measures at an event on Tuesday.
Alongside the increase in training places, Mr Hunt will promise mothers that they will be seen by the same midwife throughout labour, pregnancy and birth by 2021.
Appearing on ITV's Peston on Sunday, Mr Hunt said "continuity of carers" could potentially save 700 babies' lives a year and prevent a further 500 from being born with brain damage, but "it needs more midwives".
He said: "We know we need to make maternity care safer."
It is part of his ongoing ambition to make the NHS "the safest place in the world to give birth" and halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries during birth by 2025, the Department of Health said.
Mr Hunt will also announce plans to develop the role of maternity support workers (MSW) by creating set national standards that they must adhere to.
New training routes into midwifery will also be introduced.
By Nick Triggle, BBC health correspondent
Increasing student midwife numbers is the easy bit.
As the government has scrapped the bursary for midwives, it is much less costly to the public purse to increase the number of places.
Filling them when student midwives now have to pay fees may be another matter.
But even if this is achieved, it doesn't guarantee the midwife workforce will grow.
Over the last five years 7,700 newly-qualified midwives have joined the profession.
But the numbers leaving – either because of retirement or, increasingly, quitting the NHS – reached 8,900.
In fact, the only reason the workforce was able to increase over that period – by 1,500 to 22,500 – was because the NHS was able to recruit midwives from abroad.
If the NHS cannot improve its ability to keep staff – and the pay deal announced last week is only likely to help to some extent – the rise in student numbers will have a limited impact.
The Royal College of Midwives estimates that services in England are 3,500 midwives short.
Chief executive of the RCM, Gill Walton, called the latest move "a very long overdue acknowledgement" of the need for more midwives.
"This announcement must be welcomed," she said. "It will come as some relief to NHS midwives who have been working incredibly hard, for many years, with increasing demands and inadequate resources."
But Ms Walton warned the measures were "ambitious" and would "not transform maternity services right now", adding the extra recruited midwives would not qualify until 2022.
She added: "Simply training more midwives is only half of the problem.
"The other key issue is ensuring that when these midwives qualify they actually get jobs in the NHS.
"We must get a commitment from the government and trusts to employ them.
"Trusts are going to need an increase in the money they get so they can employ the new midwives."
Last year, the Department of Health scrapped its NHS bursary scheme for trainee nurses and midwives in England.
It meant new students enrolling on most nursing and midwifery courses from August 2017 have to pay tuition fees like other students.
Are you considering a career in midwifery? Are you a midwife? Please share your experiences by emailing [email protected].
You can also contact us in the following ways:
- Tweet: @BBC_HaveYourSay
- WhatsApp: +44 7555 173285
- Text an SMS or MMS to 61124 (UK)
- Please read our terms & conditions