Brighton short of midwives as 13 take maternity leave

Posted On 30 Nov 2010 at 6:01 am

Brighton’s main hospital is suffering from a shortage of midwives because so many of them are having babies themselves.

The shortage was raised during a House of Commons debate about proposals to scrap the £190 health in pregnancy grant last week.

It was mentioned by Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove, and fellow Tory MP, Daniel Poulter, the former Brighton doctor who represents Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.

Mr Weatherley will be visiting maternity services in Brighton and Hove on Friday (3 December) to learn more about the issues currently facing midwives, health chiefs, pregnant woman and new mothers.

He asked Dr Poulter: “Given my honourable friend’s experience, does he agree that some of that money would be better targeted on frontline services, especially midwives in areas such as my constituency where there is a shortage?”

Dr Poulter, who was a registrar at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton until last autumn, said: “If we want to make a real difference to pregnant women, the resources must be given to the front line.”

He told MPs attending the debate in Westminster Hall: “I had the experience of working at a Brighton hospital for a considerable number of months.

“There was a great shortage of midwives at my honourable friend’s local hospital.

“The pregnancy grant would be much better directed if it was used to improve care at the time of delivery, when we know that maternity care matters most in reducing the number of foetal deaths and in reducing poor outcomes in pregnancy and delivery.”

Detrimental

Dr Poulter, who was an obstetrics and gynaecology registrar at the Royal Sussex, said of the one-off pregnancy payment: “I accept that any intervention should encourage good behaviour.

“Unfortunately, what I saw in my clinical practice, and I speak also as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Maternity, is that unfortunately many mothers from vulnerable backgrounds were spending the grant on, among other things, cigarettes, which we know have a detrimental effect in pregnancy.

“There is also a high though often unseen rate of drug and alcohol misuse in pregnancy.

“The main problem with the grant is that it was not targeted, it was not effective and it was not making a difference at the time that we know matters to mothers, which is at birth and delivery.”

His call for more frontline staff is backed by the Royal College of Midwives which estimates that there is a national shortage of about 3,000 midwives.

The figure for Brighton and Hove fluctuates.

Dr Poulter said that when he was there, the hospital could have done with 20 to 30 more midwives.

A spokesman for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Sussex, said: “We have an open advert running for midwives the whole time.

Maternity leave

“We have about the number of midwife posts we would like to have but ironically we have a lot of midwives on maternity leave.”

“We currently have 160 whole-time equivalent midwives.

“The absolute gold standard ideal is that we have one midwife for every 28 women who come in to give birth.

“What we currently have is one midwife for every 34 women.

“Next week we are interviewing 15 candidates and we will take as many of those who are qualified and suitable.

“We currently have 13 midwives off on maternity leave.”

Hannah Sherlock, who chairs the Brighton and Hove Maternity Services Liaison Committee and lives in Hove, said: “It’s a national problem.

“It’s not down to a particular hospital.”

“We need investment in midwives and we need to rethink how we’re organising our midwives.”

She said that the current set-up had too much in common with a conveyor belt and gave too little choice to mothers-to-be.

She said that money spent on midwives now would be recouped in the long term.

She cited recent research suggesting that women who had the support of continuous one-to-one midwifery care in labour felt more able to cope.

Such women were then less likely to need expensive interventions like an emergency caesarean section.

She added that were also huge gaps in the number of midwives available to give daily post-natal support for new mothers, who can be vulnerable and feel isolated.

She also said that investment in midwives would certainly help improve breastfeeding rates and that this was shown to reduce the chance of obesity in adulthood.

It would also help reduce postnatal depression which would have a lasting positive impact on the NHS budget, she said.

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