Report says the midwives should rely on volunteers to help

March 7, 2011

Posted by: Suzanne Trask


Thinktank says its plans would allow hard-pressed maternity staff to spend more time at the bedside, the Guardian reports. Hospitals should use volunteers to relieve the pressure on busy maternity units so that overworked midwives can spend more time with women in labour, a new report urges the NHS.

Many more women could be cared for by midwives if they were freed from tasks such as filling in forms, taking blood pressure and giving breastfeeding advice, according to the influential King’s Fund health policy thinktank.

It is calling on hospitals to use their existing maternity staff in different ways rather than relying on the government to hire more midwives. Midwives’ leaders have accused ministers of reneging on promises to hire thousands more to cope with the rising birthrate.

The King’s Fund wants the NHS to improve maternity care by, among other things, midwives undertaking some jobs currently done by doctors, such as examining newborn babies; nurses attending elective caesarean section operations instead of midwives; midwives supervising the labour and birth of many women now looked after by a doctor; and maternity support workers taking on extra roles.

Anna Dixon, the King’s Fund’s head of policy, said such innovative practices could greatly increase the number of low and medium-risk pregnant women whose care in labour is supervised by a midwife. The NHS’s need to save £20bn by 2015 means hospitals need to make such changes, Dixon added. “Midwife numbers get too much attention. What really matters is having the right staff in the right place at the right time doing the right things,” she said.

But Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said that while midwives could take on some new roles “these should not be added at the expense of the essential care many midwives are currently struggling to provide because there simply are not enough of them to deal with their current workload”. She also voiced concern at other health workers taking on roles in maternity care. “You cannot compensate for not having the right number of midwives by transferring to other members of staff care that only midwives can and should provide,” Warwick said.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “The new report misses the crucial fact that midwifery care is needed throughout a woman’s pregnancy. For continuity of care to occur, more midwives are needed.”

Suzanne is a Partner and is head of the clinical negligence department.

Posted by: Suzanne Trask

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