Editor’s blog: The baby factory

Our health service has taken a bit of a kicking this week from Sir Derek Wanless, who took a dim of view of how the organisation has spent the 43 billion budget increase over the last five years. The NHS, he says, is not making sufficiently good progress because of a worsening in the UK lifestyle, IT delays and disasters but also a failure to improve productivity. Pay increases have not been matched by higher output.

My son was born at one of the major London teaching hospitals which hosts well over 6,000 births a year. I have to say that the care we received, when it came to our turn, was pretty outstanding. One could not help but be impressed by the professionalism and kindness of the staff who were, for the most part, run ragged by the demand for their time. The way in which they juggled birth centre beds for inductions, caesareans, sets of twins and incoming emergencies was quite something. One of our NCT mates got to an 8 centimetre dilation in the waiting room and nearly had junior by the water cooler.

One of the first things you learn – because they tell you – is that midwives are pretty hacked-off by their pay rates and the chronic staff shortages in their discipline. In London they cannot afford high housing costs and many are leaving or going part-time to make up their earnings in other ways. (An ex-nurse who then became a hack on MT is now a baby masseur.) We have 25,000 midwives in the UK but 55 per cent of them work part time. Some estimates suggest we need 10,000 more. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says recruitment is not keeping pace with a rising birth-rate, which has gone up 12.5% since 2001 – from 564,871 that year to 635,679 in 2006.

One of the reasons our birth rate is rising is inward migration. Talk about the Big Tent – we were sharing ward space with many mothers from the Ivory Coast, Eastern Europe and Asia. A lot of folk get very hot under the collar about this and one in four births in London is now to a parent born outside the UK. I've been known to have my odd Daily Mail moment on the subject and protest about NHS resources going to those from outside who haven't contributed to the tax pot.

Seeing the baby factory up close left a different impression. These children are being born in the UK where there is plenty for them to do. And what if some of those babies born last week turn to midwifery as their vocation, as did large numbers of 50s and 60s female migrants from the Caribbean. Problem solved.