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Tonic for NHS with 4,000 new midwives; Minister to announce news during Tyne visit.

Byline: By Audrey Barton Health correspondent

THOUSANDS of midwives are to be drafted into the NHS to cope with an increase in births, Health Secretary Alan Johnson will announce today during a visit to the region.

The Secretary of State for Health will unveil plans to recruit 4,000 midwives to the NHS while visiting Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary to meet staff and patients in the maternity unit.

The national plan is part of a raft of measures to increase the number of new midwives and those returning back to work as the number of births has risen by 11% in the last six years.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has repeatedly warned of a shortage of midwives and the need for recruitment of 5,000 now to provide a minimum safe level of care for women. It is not yet clear how many more midwives the North East - which currently has 1,392 working across 16 maternity units in the region - will gain under the package. Health union Unison's regional head of health for the North East, Liz Twist, welcomed the measures.

"It is really pleasing to see that the Government has taken some of the lessons from the recent Health Care Commission report of the need to improve the number of midwives to ensure that in the future we can continue to give high quality care in the North East for women giving birth," she said. "It is really welcome to see the importance of having well trained and good numbers of midwives in our maternity units recognised." But she called on the Government to recognise the hard work of the profession in its pay review.

Under the measures, the Department of Health and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) will launch a Return to Practice campaign in the summer, with incentives including free training, support with childcare and travel costs plus a grant of up to pounds 1,500. The total value of the golden hello package will be around pounds 3,000.

Mr Johnson said: "The number of births in England is rising. To keep pace with this increase and to improve the quality of care, we will recruit an additional 1,000 midwives on our wards and in our communities by 2009, rising to around 4,000 by 2012.

"Many of these extra midwives will be new to the profession, but there are also former midwives whose expertise could be brought back to the NHS, given the right support."

The region's maternity departments were found to be among the best in the country with Gateshead Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust ranking second in the Healthcare Commission's national report.

Maternity units under NHS North of Tyne were the subject of a review which ended in North Tyneside General Hospital becoming the second unit in the area to switch to midwife led care in August last year.

More mothers have attended the RVI as a result and staff have previously warned they will be unable to cope with a rise in births at the hospital without more midwives.

A spokeswoman for NHS North of Tyne said: "This is good news for the NHS and we look forward to hearing more about what it will mean for the health services across North of Tyne.

"We have already done a lot to provide more midwifery-led care and more recently with the opening of the new unit at North Tyneside General Hospital."

Dame Karlene Davis, general secretary of the RCM, said: "I welcome Alan Johnson's announcement which represents a recognition of the need to increase midwifery numbers."

Alastair Henderson, deputy director of NHS Employers, said: "Employers recognise the need to strengthen maternity services and recruiting additional midwifes is a crucial part of this."

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2008
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