The shortage of midwives on NHS maternity units has doubled since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the Royal College of Midwives has warned.
Its survey last week of 69 midwifery leaders across the UK found that the proportion of vacant posts has doubled from one in 10 in the last three weeks to one in five.
The college has now called for midwifery staff to be ‘ringfenced’ from redeployment to other areas of the health service.
Chief executive Gill Walton RCM said: ‘What this survey shows is that coronavirus is exposing the gaps that already exist in maternity services.
‘The shortage of midwives has doubled since the start of the outbreak, a situation which is only likely to worsen as the pandemic spreads further,’ she added.
The RCM said the combination of Covid-19, self-isolation and existing staff shortages is behind the surge in vacancies.
Ms Walton also called for midwives and maternity support workers to be ‘ringfenced’ from redeployment during the pandemic.
She said: ‘While other areas of the health service can postpone and cancel procedures, there is still an ongoing need for maternity services.’
A fifth (22%) of heads or directors of midwifery also said that local midwife-led maternity units had been closed, with more than a third of areas either stopping (32%) or restricting (4%) homebirths.
Nearly eight in 10 (78%) survey respondents reported ending routine face-to-face antenatal and postnatal visits, with a further 9% restricting just face-to-face postnatal visits.
It was revealed last week that student midwives and nurses who choose to carry out the final six months of their course as a clinical placement to help tackle coronavirus will be paid the Agenda for Change band 4 rate.