The number of midwives in England is failing to keep up with the rising birth rate, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

The party says figures released by the NHS Information Centre show that the average number of births each midwife handles has risen from 33.7 in 2001 to 34 in 2007.

There are more than 19,200 full-time midwives in England, an increase of 7 per cent since 2001, but the Liberal Democrats says this is not enough to compensate for the rise in births.

"Labour had left maternity care in a state of near crisis. We must increase the number of midwives so the health service can cope, especially with the birth rate set to rise," said Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary Norman Lamb.