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Low pay causing midwife shortage, union warns

Picture: DAVID JONES/PA

Picture: DAVID JONES/PA

Low pay and a lack of financial support are contributing to a huge drop in new midwives, it has been claimed.

Figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) have revealed a 35pc drop in the number of applicants to midwifery courses since 2013.

The largest drop has been in new students aged over 21, with just 6,700 mature applicants in 2017 compared to more than 12,000 four years ago.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt removed a bursary to help student midwives last August but has said that 3,000 more training places for midwives will be created in the next four years.

However Sasha Pearce, head of health for UNISON Eastern Region, said: “The government may say they are making more training places available but the reality is the removal of the bursary has meant the numbers of people being willing to train has collapsed.

“The bursary used to mean that mature entrants who had families to support could go into it with some security, but now being faced with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt instead makes many think again.”

Much midwifery and nursing training is practical based, working on real-life wards – meaning students “are effectively paying to be at work”, Mrs Pearce argued.

She also described pay as “significant problem in recent years”, saying that a current pay proposal being consulted upon “will go some way to improve the situation” but that many nurses and midwives see they can earn more working as supervisor in a supermarket.

“Poor pay levels have led to higher vacancy levels, which lead to more stress for those trying to cover and a further perception that these are not good-quality jobs,” she added.

“UNISON is clear that reintroduction of the training bursary, improvement of pay via the proposed pay deal (as a start) and a focus on filling vacancies rather than making empty promises about training places is what will solve this problem.”

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) also said the abolition of the midwife bursary last August was to blame, although numbers have been falling steadily since 2013.

Professional policy adviser Gabrielle Bourke said the NHS in England is 3,500 midwives short of what is needed to deliver safe, high-quality care.

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