The NHS spent almost £100m on temporary midwives last year to plug staff shortages, according to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
RCM data shows the NHS spent £97m in 2016 on temporary staffing arrangements, such as overtime and agency staff, with services having to pay hourly fees twice as high as the normal rates.
The RCM said the average hourly spend of agency staff was £43.65, compared with £18.20 for a staff midwife with 10 years’ experience in England and Wales.
It added the fact that maternity services were turning to these arrangements on such a scale showed the service was “under-staffed and under-resourced”.
In England, the RCM estimates services are 3,500 midwives short.
Jon Skewes, director of policy at the RCM, said that the money could have paid for 4,391 newly qualified midwives or 2,731 more experienced staff.
“The use of temporary midwives to staff permanent shortages is counterproductive and smacks of short-termism when there needs to be sensible and strategic long-term planning in midwifery and across the NHS,” he said.
“It is costing more in the long run to pay agency, bank and overtime that it would if services employed the right numbers of midwives in the first place.”
The data also showed the NHS spent a total of £2.9bn on private agency workers in 2016-17, down from £3.6bn the year before after pay caps were imposed on nurses, doctors and midwives.
It said much of the drop was due to the NHS switching from external agencies to in-house “staff banks”, where workers are called in as required.
Private agency spending in English maternity units fell from £29m in 2015 to £20.6m last year. However, NHS bank staff costs rose from £43.2m to £58.6m.
After overtime was included, spending at English maternity units rose from £72.7m in 2015 to £87.3m in 2016.
RCM said for the first time it gathered comparable data from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, finding that the NHS spent a total of £97.1m on maternity staffing gaps.
Responding to the research, the Department of Health in England said it had brought a cap on agency spending which was reducing that element of the bill, while overall midwife numbers were rising.
“We want the NHS to be the safest place in the world to have a baby,” it said.