The number of midwives being trained in England looks set to be cut by 3.6 per cent, figures collated by Nursing Standard show.

Despite the Conservatives' pre-election pledge to increase midwife numbers by 3,000, only two SHAs plan to fund an increase in places and a further two plan no change.

In England, six strategic health authorities (SHAs) plan to reduce the number of midwifery student places in 2011/12 compared to the previous academic year.

Scotland will almost halve its midwifery places from 184 to 100 in the 2011/12 academic year, while Northern Ireland will train an additional 30 midwives.

Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "The figures are extremely worrying and are yet another blow for maternity services.

"They are doubly disappointing because we have only recently been assured by senior members of the Government that midwifery training places would not drop. This comes on the back of the Government's u-turn on their promise to provide more midwives. We believe that 4,700 more midwives are needed in England to provide a safe and high quality service for women.

"The fact that the Department of Health says that that midwifery numbers are at record levels fails to address some key issues. Firstly, they are at record levels because of the policies and investment by the previous Government. Secondly, they obscure the fact that midwife numbers were climbing from a very low base and, despite this increase they have trailed a long way behind birth rates. There is also increasing pressure on services because births are becoming more complex, demanding more of midwives' time.

"Now we have a situation where the numbers of midwives coming in will be falling, along with a big retirement bulge among midwives on the way in the next five to ten years. I will be seeking to discuss this issue with the Government as a matter of urgency."