HC Deb 09 January 2001 vol 360 cc874-6
11. Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

If there is to be a continuing and separate regulatory structure for midwives within the new national plan for the NHS. [142906]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

Our proposals for a new Nursing and Midwifery Council provide for the separate registration of midwives and the regulation of their practice.

Mr. Simpson

I am grateful for that answer. My hon. Friend will know that, in the review that was commissioned by the Department on the delivery of midwifery services, recommendations were made about the creation of a statutory midwifery committee and about the nature of the representation of midwives on the new Nursing and Midwifery Council. In response to representations that have already been made by midwives in the House before Christmas, can he say whether midwives will have equal representation with nurses on the committee and whether they will have a separate and independent midwifery committee?

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend will understand that it would be premature to anticipate the result of the consultation, which is still continuing, but I can confirm that midwives will have equal representation with the other professions that will be regulated: nurses and health visitors. The new council will have a duty to set training standards for midwifery. The issue of a separate midwifery committee has been raised during the consultation. I simply confirm that we are considering those representations.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

We know that, for the first time in many years, the number of students applying to become doctors has declined. Is it the same for midwifery?

Mr. Denham

I am pleased to say that we have more than enough midwifery applications, despite the fact that there are now 55 per cent. more training places for pre-registration midwifery than three years ago. There are not enough midwives at the moment. As so often, the reason is that the previous Government failed to invest in training enough professional staff for the NHS. This Government are investing in those extra training places. We are attracting the applicants and those midwives will become available to the NHS.

The hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that, this month, with the Royal College of Midwives, we are launching a new campaign that is designed to attract qualified midwives back to the NHS. We have had tremendous success with our return to nursing campaign. This month, we are extending that to the midwifery profession because we need more midwives in the NHS.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement that there will be a separate body for midwives. I met midwives in the Medway maritime hospital. They were concerned about their ability to be able to influence policy at both a national and local level. They were particularly concerned about the number of midwifery-led units in hospitals and wanted an increase. Obviously, recruitment is crucial, but does he not agree that midwives have a distinct and unique role to play both in influencing and in assisting NHS policy as we move forward with the NHS plan?

Mr. Denham

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments, but for the avoidance of confusion I should make it clear that I did not say that there would be a separate body for midwives. There will be a Nursing and Midwifery Council on which midwives will be represented, as will nurses and health visitors. I was responding to the proposal that there should be a separate midwifery committee. I can confirm that that issue has been raised in consultation and we are actively considering it now. We accept the importance of the midwifery profession and will look to reflect that in our final proposals.