The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) annual report found midwives are rapidly going into retirement
Scotland's midwifery workforce is rapidly ageing, according to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) annual report, published today.
Leaders have warned there are signs maternity services are "beginning to buckle as demand rises".
Four in 10 (41 per cent) workers are 50 or over – the highest proportion in the UK – while the number of younger staff plummets.
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Between 2011 and 2016, the number of midwives and maternity care assistants aged in their fifties and sixties rose by 285, but the number under the age of 50 fell by 217.
Despite a recent dip, the birthrate remains high with 54,500 babies born last year – up on the number at the start of the century.
More than a fifth of pregnant women (22 per cent) are now obese and more likely to face complications and need additional care.
Leaders have warned there are signs maternity services are ‘beginning to buckle as demand rises’
There has also been an increase in the number of older mothers adding to the pressure facing the maternity service.
Failure to get to grips with this problem could wipe out the success Scotland has had in recent years
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) annual report
Births to women in their late 30s are up more than 2,000 since the year 2000, while births to women aged 40 or older are up by around 1,000.
In 2015 143 births were to women aged 45 or above, a fourfold increase since 2000.
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This mix has led the RCM to call for Scottish Government "vigilance" to ensure there are enough midwives before the retirement time bomb hits.
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"Failure to get to grips with this problem could wipe out the success Scotland has had in recent years, especially when compared to England, in maintaining an appropriately sized midwifery workforce," the report states.
The number of places for new student midwives halved between 2010/11 and 2011/12 from 203 to 101.
This recovered to 178 in 2015/16, while the total number of midwifery students rose by a third between 2013 and 2015 from 396 to 518. The RCM estimates that across England there is currently a shortage of 3,500 midwives.
It said that despite this shortage, in the 12 months to September 2016, the NHS midwifery workforce in England rose by just 104.
More than a fifth of pregnant women are now obese and more likely to face complications
Mary Ross-Davie, RCM Scotland director, said: "Compared to England, Scotland is doing well in terms of midwife numbers. However, we can do better and more are needed.
"We have to stop Scotland facing the shortage of midwives that has blighted England for over a decade.
"We will do this by ensuring that all those midwives heading for retirement are replaced in good time. This needs careful planning for the future, but it needs doing now.
"We have serious public health issues in Scotland with high levels of obesity and smoking in pregnancy among many other issues.
"Scotland's maternity services are very good but there are signs that it is beginning to buckle as demand rises."
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "This is the clearest warning sign yet from Scotland's midwives about the growing pressure and the demographic time bomb the profession faces.
"Labour has called for a proper review of maternity staffing for months but so far the Nationalists have refused to listen."
Alex Cole-Hamilton, for the Liberal Democrats, added: "This problem has been allowed to sneak up on the Scottish Government. They must now get to grips with the problem and ensure that Scotland's midwives have the resources and support they need to do their job."
Women are also having babies at an older age which adds to the pressure of facing maternity services
Health Secretary Shona Robison said the report recognised the government had increased student midwife numbers while the a recent review of maternity and neonatal services would help "create world-class" care.
She added: "However we recognise that challenges still remain and will continue to work with the College to shape our student midwife numbers and the future direction of midwifery policy in Scotland.
"Our innovative midwifery workload and workforce planning tools – a UK first – have helped to ensure that NHS Scotland continues to meet the RCM-recommended midwife-to-birth-ratio and we will continue to mandate the use of these across health boards."
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