HEALTH Secretary Andrew Lansley was put on the spot by Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield over midwife numbers.
The Labour politician, speaking at House of Commons Question Time, said Prime Minister David Cameron had made a “firm and passionate pledge” to recruit an extra 3,000 midwives.
Mr Blomfield said: “Last week, the chief executive of the NHS told the Public Accounts Committee the NHS is now short of 4,500 midwives.
“Will you tell the House when you intend to bring forward plans to honour the Prime Minister’s pledge – or can we take it that it’s just another Conservative broken promise on the NHS?”
But Mr Lansley replied NHS chief David Nicholson “made an error” and was referring to health visitors, rather than midwives, in his evidence to the Public Accounts Committee.
The minister said: “Well I don’t wish to embarrass the chief executive of the NHS but actually he made an error. He was referring to health visitors, not midwives, when he was talking to the Public Accounts Committee.
“We are short of health visitors precisely because through the life of the last Government, the number of health visitors was continually going down and we are going to recruit more health visitors.
“We share actually the commitment of the last Labour Government to increase the number of midwives and to do so not least because of the increase in the number of births.”
In 1997, there were just over 608,000 births in England but the number had risen to 671,000 by 2009.
The number of midwives working the equivalent of full time has gone from around 18,000 in 1997 to just over 20,000 in 2009.
Mr Nicholson had told the Commons public accounts committee: “Over the last three or four years, it has become clear as we have revised figures on the birth rate that our planning for midwifery services has not been as it should have been.
“I don’t accept it’s in crisis but in some places they are really pressed.”
Asked what the Government was doing about recruiting and retaining more midwives, Mr Nicholson said: “I think we are working through what that means at the moment. I don’t think we have concluded how we can do it.”