A baby boom has pushed maternity services in the UK to a “crucial tipping point”, according to a new report which names Peterborough as one of the country’s births hotspots.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says there is a massive shortage of midwives after some areas of the UK has seen a 50% rise in the number of births in the last few years.
In a report to be published in parliament on Tuesday, the RCM warned that an extra 5,000 midwives were needed in England alone to deal with the highest birth rate in 40 years.
It is calling on the Government to provide a guarantee not to cut midwife training places.
Each of the four parts of the UK has experienced a rise in the number of births in the last decade - 22% in England, 17% in Wales, 15% in Northern Ireland and 12% in Scotland.
The number of babies born in some “baby boom hotspots” of England has jumped more than 50% in recent years, according to an RCM analysis of ONS statistics.
The fastest-growing number of births was found in Corby, Northamptonshire, where births jumped 63% between 2002 and 2011.
That is almost three times faster than the England-wide rise of 21.6%.
Other baby boom hotspots named were Bournemouth, where births rose by 54.1%, Boston in Lincolnshire (53.5%), the London borough of Barking and Dagenham (53.5%), Slough (50.4%), Norwich (48.7%), Peterborough (45.6%), Watford (43.7%), Southampton (42.9%) and Bristol (42.7%).
The RCM said England and Wales had been “overwhelmed” by the rising birth rate, but while midwife numbers were increasing a little, the strain on numbers has led to antenatal care of expectant mothers becoming “threadbare”.
There are also concerns about an ageing number of midwives, with too few following in their footsteps.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “England remains around 5,000 midwives short of the number required to provide mothers and babies with high-quality service they need and deserve.
“Maternity care is the earliest health intervention of all and getting care right for mothers and babies is a vital part of supporting families and building a foundation for good health in later life.”
She said that while more midwives are being employed in England and the availability of training is on the rise, efforts need to be redoubled because of the baby boom and the relentless rise in the numbers being born.
“A corner is being turned, but this is no time for backsliding from the Government,” she said.
“Maternity units are under intense strain and have been now for many years, with many midwives really at the end of their tether in terms of what they can tolerate.
“We are reaching a crucial tipping point for maternity services in England.”
The shortage of midwives has forced some NHS maternity hospitals to close their doors and temporarily turn women away who are about to give birth, according to the Sunday Times.
An RCM report last year found more than half of NHS trusts had to close their door an average of seven times a year and divert women to other maternity hospitals because they could not cope with numbers, the newspaper said.
Jon Skewes, a director at the RCM, said: “We are concerned that our members are so stretched and that in some circumstances units have been forced to close on a temporary basis to ensure safety.”
The RCM says it would like to see more midwife-led units and more home births to reduce the shortage of midwives, the appropriate deployment of properly trained and supervised maternity support workers and a guarantee from the Government not to cut midwife training places.
The State of Maternity Services report showed that in 2011 there were 688,120 babies born in England, the highest number since 1971.
Provisional birth numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the first half of last year point to 2012 being another record-breaking year for births.
The ONS forecasts that births in England could reach 743,000 by 2014.
The figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland seem to have plateaued, the RCM said.
There is also an increase in the number of older mothers giving birth in England.
The number of babies born each year to women aged 40 or above jumped by more than 80% between 2001 and 2011.
In 2011 29,350 babies were born to women in that age group, the highest since 1948.
The number of babies born to women aged 30-34 was the highest since records began in 1938.
The report said: “Older mothers place greater demands on maternity services, with a greater likelihood of complications and the need for medical intervention.
In contrast, since the start of the baby boom the number of babies born to girls and women under 20 has fallen dramatically, by 18% - fewer than in any year since 1955. The RCM also warned that an increasingly ageing workforce of midwives would cause an even greater strain on services over the next 15 years.
Professor Warwick said: “The midwifery profession is markedly older than it was a few years ago too, with many more midwives closer to retirement.
“We desperately need more midwives to reinvigorate the profession. Ten years ago, only a third of midwives were aged 45 or over. In 2011, around half were in that age group.
“The number of midwives aged 65 or above has risen more than nine-fold, from 13 to 122. We need to train more midwives and make absolutely sure that those who qualify get jobs without delay.”
Despite the current shortage of midwives and the increasing birth rate, the 2012 heads of midwifery (HOMs) survey found that 26.6% of HOMs reported that their budget had decreased in the last 12 months and 12.8% of HOMs reported reductions in services that their unit provides.
Some 9.7% of HOMs who have a midwife-led birthing unit in their trusts reported that it was in danger of closing, therefore restricting the choice available to women.
More than half (52.7%) of HOMs reported that in the last 12 months they had to take the decision to close their unit due to being unable to cope with the demand.
Out of the trusts that had closed their doors in the last 12 months, on average each trust closed on seven separate occasions.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “It is because of the historical shortage in the number of midwives, that from day one, investing in maternity care has been a top priority for the Government.
“We have taken quick action and there are now over 800 more midwives in the NHS since 2010, and there are also a record 5,000 midwives in training who will qualify in the next three years.
“The number of midwives is increasing faster than the birth rate.
“Most women already have choice and one-to-one maternity care, and we are working closely with the Royal College of Midwives to ensure that personalised, one to one maternity care is available for every woman across the country.”