Rising obesity levels and the increasing age of pregnant women are placing extra strain on midwifery services as vacancies rise, according to a new report.
The proportion of overweight and obese pregnant women topped 50% for the first time last year in Scotland reaching 51%, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) report found.
The age of pregnant women is also increasing, with 54% of babies in 2017 born to women in their 30s or 40s, the RCM’s State of Maternity Services Report for Scotland said.
Between 2000 and 2017 births to women in their early forties soared 68% to 1,907 births while the number of babies born to women in their late thirties (35-39) rose by 32% to 9,745.
Both obese and overweight women and older women are more likely to require additional care and support throughout their pregnancy.
The RCM said the rise in vacancies is placing increasing pressure on services with vacant midwifery posts quadrupling in the last five years, rising from 1.3% in 2013 to 5% in 2018.
It noted “particularly acute” problems in the north of Scotland.
Mary Ross-Davie, RCM director for Scotland, said: “There are some great things happening in our maternity services in Scotland, not least the very ambitious Best Start maternity programme. The Scottish Government has also delivered real increases in the number of student midwives, which we welcome.
“However, pressures on our midwives are increasing – the care needs of the women in our care are rising, while the number of unfilled midwifery posts is also rising.
“I am still concerned about the age profile of our midwifery workforce, though it is encouraging to see the ‘green shoots’ of higher numbers of younger midwives joining our service.
“We need to work hard to ensure that midwives choose to stay and work in all parts of Scotland, including in the North and in our most remote communities.”
She added: “What is important is that our government continues to invest in maternity services to ensure they can cope with current and future demand.
“The NHS, the Scottish Government, the RCM and others need to keep working together to identify the challenges and tackle them. We should be aiming for our maternity care to not just be among the best in the world, but to be the best.”
The RCM said there are still some concerns over the ageing midwifery workforce despite an increase in the number of younger midwives.
The proportion of midwives aged 50 or older jumped from 34% in March 2013 to 40% in March 2018.
Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative health spokesman, said: “Midwives are an essential part of our health service and this report accurately highlights the growing and complex pressures they continue to face.
“In order for midwives to give expectant mothers the time and care they need there simply needs to be more of them.
“The SNP must encourage midwives training in the Scottish NHS to remain here for as long as possible after they graduate.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “While there has been an increase of 5.7% in the number of qualified nurses and midwives under this Government, we’re determined to go further to ensure we have a sustainable midwifery workforce long into the future.
“That’s why we’re investing a Return to Practice Programme, where 55 former midwives returned to service, and a shortened midwifery course in the north of Scotland to meet the specific recruitment challenges in that region.
“We’ve also recommended an increase in midwifery student intakes from 191 to 226 midwifery places – an increase of 18.3%. We are also retaining the nursing and midwifery student bursary, which has been scrapped for midwifery students in England by the UK Government.
“Our Chief Nursing Officer Professor Fiona McQueen has also made a number of key recommendations to widen access to nursing and midwifery careers, which include a national recruitment campaign to attract individuals into nursing and midwifery to begin later this year.”