Many people have heard that England has been experiencing a baby boom since the start of the century. It's been in the papers a lot (see HERE and HERE, for example). Births each year rose from around 563,000 in 2001 to over 687,000 in 2010. That was the highest number since 1971; to give you some context, 1971 was the year the UK moved from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency!
What people might not know is that this is set to keep on rising. Provisional figures for the first three-quarters of 2011 suggest a continued rise, and it doesn't end there. The official projection from the Office for National Statistics is for the number of births to hit 723,000 by the end of this Parliament, and then stay above 700,000 for years to come. For an already stretched maternity service, this means midwives will be spread ever more thinly, pushed even harder by the fast growing pressures on the service.
The profile of pregnant women is changing too, adding to the pressure. The number of births to women aged 40 or over was higher in 2010 than in any year since 1948; time for a little more context - 1948 was the year the NHS was created! Obesity and a greater incidence of diabetes, for example, also make the work of midwives more complex and demanding.
We are in an age of austerity, of course. But the government often boasts that the NHS budget has been protected, and surely if there is any group that should be shielded from the brunt of any cuts it is newborn babies.
David Cameron made a promise before the General Election to recruit an extra 3,000 midwives into the NHS in England. Sadly, once he was in office, the promise was dropped. Bizarrely, the Conservatives explained this by saying that the number of births had tailed off; the opposite is true, as the (official) numbers above prove. The Royal College of Midwives estimates that the shortage in 2010 was almost 5,000 (based on that year's midwife and birth numbers), but if the Prime Minister would resurrect his pre-election pledge then we wouldn't be so churlish as to do anything other than praise him.
Attempting to put pressure on the government and indeed the Prime Minister to re-commit to increasing the size of the midwifery workforce was the reason I lodged an e-petition with the government on this very issue. You can look at the e-petition... and hopefully sign it... HERE.
I hope you do choose to support midwives by signing this e-petition, and not only that but you tell friends and family about it too. If we get over 100,000 signatures by 22 August then it will be put before MPs for debate.
The number of births is only going to rise, and the pressures on the service only going to grow, so please do your bit to help us convince the prime minister to breathe new life into his original, pre-election pledge for 3,000 more midwives. That'd go a long way towards improving maternity services and giving women the level and quality of care they deserve, and which will give all newborns the best possible start in life.
Follow Cathy Warwick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MidwivesRCM