Midwives call for 'seismic shift' in maternity services
The leader of the UK's midwives says there needs to be "a seismic shift" in the way maternity care is provided.
Cathy Warwick said there was a "concerted and calculated backlash" against home birth and midwife-led care.
In a New Year's message, the head of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), claimed maternity services were "almost near breaking point".
The Department of Health said a record 2,493 midwives are in training.
The RCM's general secretary said in her message: "We want to make sure that all women know that the choice of a home birth is available to them.
"We feel that there is a concerted and calculated backlash by sectors of the establishment against homebirth and midwife-led care.
"We are not sure what the coalition Government's position is on home birth - or whether they are honouring their pre-election promises for adequately staffed maternity services for 3,000 more midwives.
"To begin providing more home births, there needs to be a seismic shift in the way maternity services are organised.
"The NHS is simply not prepared to meet the potential demand for home births because we are still embedded in a medicalised culture.
"The recently reported drop in the home birth rate in England from 2.9 % in 2008 to 2.7% in 2009 is a real disappointment."
Speaking on BBC Radio Four on Wednesday, the midwives' leader claimed some researchers collaborated with the media to publish stories claiming home birth was less safe than hospital birth.
"We think people are comparing apples and pears," she said, adding that it was not possible to compare services in the UK with those in other countries.
"Women should speak to midwives and ask them about evidence relating to their own circumstances, and be allowed to make an informed choice," she said.
Wales has a higher rate of home births at almost 4%, after ministers made it a priority.
In Scotland, 1.5% of women currently give birth at home, while in Northern Ireland the figure is 0.4% of births.
The parenting charity NCT backed the RCM's views.
The NCT's head of research and information, Mary Newburn, said: "The NCT believes women are finding it more difficult to book a home birth.
"There is no evidence of a reduction in demand, but we know maternity services are additionally stretched.
"The NCT calls on every NHS trust and board to ensure that choice of place of birth is available to all women."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "All mothers should expect consistently excellent maternity services.
"We have made clear that women and their families should be given the information they need to make informed choices about their maternity care.
"The planned number of midwives in training in 2010/11 is 2,493 - a record level.
"We expect there will be a sustained increase in the number of new midwives available to the service over the next few years."