The lives of mothers and babies are at risk due to a “serious shortage” of maternity staff, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned.
This comes as the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Baby Loss and Maternity released a report calling the impact of shortages on newborn care “grim”.
Around 500 midwives left the NHS in England last year, adding to a long-term shortage of more than 2,000, the RCM says.
Along with UK pregnancy and baby loss charity Sands, the organization is urging the government to fix the staffing crisis.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said “crisis mode is now the norm” for midwives.
She said: “A serious, persistent and worsening shortage of midwives and other staff is impacting the safety and quality of care for women, babies and families.
“The staff are working flat out and doing their best, but they are burned out, fragile and exhausted.
“The demands placed on them mean they cannot provide the level of care they so desperately want and women’s choices are being eroded.
“For many, crisis mode is now normal.
“As a result, many are choosing to leave the NHS simply because they know they cannot provide the right care and for the sake of their own mental and physical health.
“We urgently need to act and invest because the services are just on their knees.”
Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, added: “Today’s report paints a worrying picture of NHS staff having to decide between supporting a grieving mother or caring for a mother giving birth to a live baby, and often rushing back and forth between the two without leaving time for individual, loving grief counseling.
“Too often, inexperienced midwives are left alone to care for bereaved families and that’s just not good enough.”
dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the report adds to “a growing body of evidence that maternity services are under an incredible strain”.
“As a college, we continue to urge the government to prioritize much-needed funding for staff and training for mothers,” he said.
The APPG report finds that not only do midwives feel rushed in their day-to-day tasks, they often do not have time to offer parents psychological support in the event of the death of a newborn.
It adds that the evidence collected from NHS organisations, midwives and parents “paints a bleak picture of maternity and newborn services that are understaffed and overwhelmed, disappointing women, families and maternity workers alike”.
The shortage also affects “exhausted and demoralized staff, frustrated with the environment that doesn’t always allow them to provide the safest, highest quality care, and afraid of making mistakes that could have serious consequences for women and babies.” it in the report.
The authors recommend introducing a “fully funded” scheme for maternity and neonatal services and earmarking part of these funds for staff training.
It is also recommended to set a national minimum staffing level and give staff time to learn from incidents and implement changes.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has been asked for comment.