Hospitals are shelling out thousands of pounds to “rip-off agencies” cashing in on a shortage of midwives, Labour has claimed.

The party’s analysis of data from 86 NHS trusts in England showed they spent more than £96 million on agency and bank midwives in 2022/23.

Spending had risen every year since 2018 as hospitals plugged gaps amid chronic staff shortages.

Wye Valley NHS trust reported paying £2,024 for a single shift. This was last minute cover for a critical senior midwifery role at short notice on a Bank Holiday weekend, it said in a statement.

The trust added: “We keep the use of agency staff in midwifery to a minimum.”

Overall one in three trusts admitted they had paid a temporary worker over £1,000.

The data was obtained by Labour through Freedom of Information requests.

Writing in the Daily Express today, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting blasts ministers for failing to train enough doctors, nurses and midwives.

He warns that money-grabbing agencies are “cashing in on the crisis in the NHS” while services suffer.

Shadow Health Minister Karin Smyth MP said: “The Conservatives have failed to train enough midwives over the past 13 years, leaving the NHS at the mercy of rip-off recruitment agencies.

“Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being leached out of the health service, while pregnant mothers are turned away from maternity units due to a lack of midwives. Labour will train the midwives that the NHS needs to give mothers and babies the care they deserve.”

The Royal College of Midwives estimates that the NHS in England has a shortfall of 2,500 midwives. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, unveiled in June, set out plans to increase the number of people starting midwifery training from 2,715 in 2018/19 to 4,270 in 2023/24.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said spending on agency staff was “a knotty problem for the NHS”.

Employers would rather invest in long-term workforce development but are forced to pay more to fill rota gaps, he said.

Mr Mortimer added that the expansion of training places would help, but “this will take time to come to fruition and we might see agency spend increase temporarily as the workforce is developed, before a drop in the long term”.

Sally Ashton May, director for midwifery policy and practice at The Royal College of Midwives, said action was also needed to improve retention and retain the skilled staff already in the NHS.

She added: “Only if both these things happen will we address the acute and chronic shortage of midwives working in the NHS. We have shared our solutions with the Government – and the Opposition – and we are more than willing to work with them to achieve this.”

Minister for women Maria Caulfield MP said: “We are training more than twice as many nurses and midwives through our NHS Long Term Workforce Plan than Labour pledged they could deliver – Sir Keir Starmer has simply given up on our NHS.

“Where Labour are in power, their NHS record is clear: billions of pounds wasted, lower productivity and longer waits for treatment. Our NHS cannot risk a Labour government.

“Meanwhile, we have overseen record numbers of training places for midwives, launched our three-year plan for maternity and neonatal services, and are investing £165 million to improve maternity services.”

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