THE latest State of Maternity Services report from the Royal College of Midwives shows the baby boom in UK continuing and maternity services at a ‘tipping point’, warning there is ‘No time for backsliding.’
Births in England are continuing to boom, with the proportion of births to the oldest women growing faster than for younger women, according to the new report published today, January 22nd, by the Royal College of Midwives.
The second annual report details the pressures on maternity services.
These include rising demands, massive shortages of midwives with (5,000 more still needed in England to deal with the baby boom) and concerns about the ageing midwifery workforce.
The State of Maternity Services report is the annual look at Britain’s maternity services, bringing together information about all four UK countries.
The report will be officially launched at an event in Parliament at 10am today (Tuesday 22nd January 2013).
The report highlights that there were 688,120 babies born to women in England in 2011, the highest number for four decades.
Provisional birth numbers (from the Office for National Statistics) for the first half of last year point to 2012 being another record-breaker year for births, once birth statistics are confirmed and released later this year.
ONS birth projections in England also suggest that births could reach as high as 743,000 by 2014.
Meanwhile, the number of babies born in some ‘baby boom hotspots’ of England have jumped more than 50 per cent in recent years, according to an RCM analysis of statistics from ONS, which is also released today (January 22nd) by the RCM, alongside its report.
The area which saw the fastest growing number of births to local women was Corby, Northamptonshire, where births jumped 63 per cent between 2002 and 2011. That was almost three times faster than the England-wide rise of 21.6 per cent.
England’s other ‘baby boom hotspots’ include Bournemouth, which saw births rise by 54.1 per cent, Boston, Lincolnshire (53.5 per cent), the London borough of Barking and Dagenham (52.5 per cent), Slough (50.4 per cent) and Norwich (48.7 per cent), Peterborough (45.6 per cent), Watford (43.7 per cent), Southampton (42.9 per cent), and Bristol (42.7 per cent).
However, the baby boom, which has dominated maternity care and put increased pressure on maternity services across the entire UK for a decade, seems to have plateaued in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In 2011, there were 688,120 babies born in England, up more than 124,000 since 2001 – the highest level since 1971.
There continues to be an increase in the number of older mothers giving birth.
The number of babies born each year to women aged 40 or above jumped by more than 80 per cent between 2001 and 2011.
The number of babies born to women in that age group in 2011 (29,350) was the highest since 1948.
The number of babies born to women aged 30-34 was the highest on record, with records beginning in 1938.
Older mothers place greater demands on maternity services, with a greater likelihood of complications and the need for medical intervention. These trends are reflected in all four countries.
Since the start of the baby boom, the number of babies born to girls and women aged below 20 has fallen dramatically, by 18 per cent.
In fact there were fewer births to this group than in any year since 1955 – another trend reflected in all four countries.
For most of the last decade, the midwifery workforce has risen more slowly than the number of births, though this has improved in recent years.
The RCM estimates there is a shortage of 5,000 midwives in England.
The number of births in Scotland remains high by recent standards, although it has fallen slightly over the last three years.
The number of babies born in Scotland in 2011 was still more than 7,000 higher than in 2002.
Like England, births to women aged 40 to 44 are up more than three quarters by 76 per cent, and for women aged between 35 and 39 the increase is almost a quarter.
Whilst it would appear that there has been a dramatic fall in midwife numbers in Scotland, this is due to NHS boards carrying out a large-scale data cleansing exercise.
The RCM, however, is concerned that the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing has taken the decision to cut the annual intake of student midwives.
This has been justified by the lack of jobs for newly-qualified midwives in Scotland.
The ageing of the midwifery profession, however means that we need to replace all those midwives who are fast approaching retirement and students need to be trained and practising before we see the number of retirements start to climb.
The RCM is calling on the Cabinet Secretary to increase student midwife numbers again.
Whilst the baby boom has slowed, the number of babies born in 2011 was still 16 per cent higher than in 2001.
A decade of a rising number of births has left a legacy of additional pressure on the system.
As with other countries in the UK, Wales has seen a big rise in older women giving birth. The number of women aged 40 or over who gave birth in 2010 was up 63 per cent, compared to 2001.
Meanwhile, midwife numbers fell in Wales, for the third year in a row. The number of midwives in 2011 was 12 per cent lower than in 2008.
Between 2001 and 2011 the number of babies born jumped by just short of 5,000, but the number of full time equivalent midwives rose by just 35.
There were 25,273 babies born in Northern Ireland in 2011, up 15% or 3,311 on 2001. In three of the last four years – including in 2010 and 2011 – the number of births has topped 25,000. As with England, Scotland and Wales, there were big rises in the number of births to older women.
Whilst the number of births to women aged 45 or over is down 10 per cent, this represents only a few dozen births out of a total of over 25,000.
Big rises (of 33 per cent and 48 per cent) have been seen in the 35-39 and 40-44 age groups, respectively.
In 2012, there were 1,040 full time equivalent midwives, which is the highest in recent years. Although, the overall rise in midwives, at seven per cent, is much lower than the 15 per cent rise in the number of babies being born.
Northern Ireland has no shortage of midwives, so should be able to absorb the additional births with relative ease.
The RCM’s main concern in Northern Ireland is the marked ageing of the midwifery workforce in recent years.
This situation needs to be closely monitored to ensure enough new midwives are trained to replace those who will retire.