A union has urged the government to invest in increasing midwife numbers after one east London trust admitted facing "significant challenges" just to maintain "safe" midwifery staff levels.

Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs maternity services at Newham Hospital, The Royal London Hospital, Barking Birth Centre and Barkantine Birth Centre, said in a board report that its midwife vacancy rate was 15.6 per cent.

The trust said: "Recently we have had significant challenges around maintaining safe midwifery staffing due to increased activity and complexity of women and babies; increasing background vacancy rate; sickness absence due to Covid-19 and other reasons and self-isolation due to Covid-19."

It added that, like other London trusts, it has faced the hurdles of vacancies, a lack of experienced midwives and a 10pc staff turnover.

In January, Matthew Trainer, chief executive of neighbouring Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, said it had a 10pc midwife vacancy rate.

Karen Edwards, regional head for London at union the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), felt the cost of living in the capital was a key reason why London trusts are "struggling to recruit", as well as years of "pay stagnation" for midwives and other NHS staff.

She added: "We also need much more focus on retaining the staff we already have.

"An RCM survey of its members last October showed that over half of midwives surveyed said they were considering leaving their job as a midwife.

"There must be investment from the government in maternity services and to increase midwife numbers."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was planning to hire 1,200 more midwives nationally as part of a recruitment drive, as well as giving NHS staff a pay rise this year.

They added that 2021 saw record numbers of students accept places on nursing and midwifery courses.

“The wellbeing of staff remains a key priority and the NHS continues to offer a broad range of support including through dedicated mental health hubs," the spokesperson said.

Barts is using a targeted campaign and partnerships with universities to recruit midwives.

A trust spokesperson said: “We monitor staffing levels daily to ensure our wards are safe and our dedicated teams help women with their pregnancy and provide them with the best care to suit their individual needs.

“Our maternity units also have escalation plans in place to boost staffing levels, including safely reducing non-core services and bringing in senior staff when needed.”