This is causing midwives to feel they’re unable to give women the support they need to ensure a safe delivery.
In some parts of the country midwives are in charge of 25% more births as they were in 2001, according to the official figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats.
The average midwife is now overseeing 33 births a year – well in excess of the guidelines which state they should deal with no more than 28 births.
The Royal College of Midwives said last night that the figures proved that NHS maternity services were “crumbling”, with many units under threat.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “These figures show that our maternity services are under huge strain around the country. There simply aren’t enough midwives to deliver on the Government’s promises of one-to-one maternity care.”
With the birth rate rising and many midwives set to retire over the next decade, the situation is set to get worse.
Experts say fewer midwives per birth leads to increasing risks for mothers and babies.
Belinda Phipps of the National Childbirth Trust said: “As the number of birth per midwives rise, the risk of a woman being in labour without a midwife by her side rises.
“This is not just a ‘nice to have’ but is clinically important and makes a difference to a woman’s labour and birth.”
The increasing ratios have occurred because the Government has not employed increasing numbers of staff to keep pace with rising birth rates.
Since 2001 the birthrate has shot up by 12.5%, from 564,871 babies born to 635,679 in 2006 – a bigger rise than Government actuaries had expected.
Midwife numbers have increased by just 5% since Labour came to power in 1997, from 18,053 to 18,862 in 2006 – with 2006 seeing a drop in numbers on the previous year.
Fewer new midwives are being trained every year – down 16% in the last two years; and newly-qualified midwives are struggling to find jobs because many trusts still have financial problems.
And the RCM warns the problem could get worse, with half of midwives planning to retire within the next decade.