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The UK government says it will recruit 4,000 extra midwives in England by 2012 to relieve pressure on overstretched maternity services.
A Healthcare Commission report in January found a large variation in maternity care and raised concerns about staffing levels. Midwifery leaders said the extra staff would be a "significant start".
The Health secretary, Alan Johnson, also outlined plans for former midwives to be given a "golden hello" worth £3,000 to help them return to work after a break in service. The funding includes training, support with childcare and travel costs plus a grant of up to £1,500.
A survey of midwives carried out last year found maternity services are being trimmed back, putting the care of women at risk. The Healthcare Commission review found many maternity units in England were failing to provide top quality care.
One in four women reported being left alone during labour or shortly after giving birth at a time that worried them and 43% of women said they were not given a choice of having their baby at home, as national guidelines suggest.
Labour's manifesto promise at the last general election was that by 2009 all women will have choice over where and how they have their baby and what pain relief to use and that every woman should be supported by the same midwife throughout her pregnancy.
The Royal College of Midwives estimate that 5,000 extra full-time midwives are needed in England alone to cope with spiralling birth rates. The 4,000 proposed by the government is equivalent to 3,400 full-time posts, as some will work part-time.
Alan Johnson said the extra midwives would come from £330m additional funding already announced for maternity services.
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