Plans to restrict the number of foreign midwives on 'fast track' visas will thwart the government's pledge to drastically improve maternity care, campaigners are claiming.

The Department of Health's workforce review team has recommended the removal of midwives from the Home Office shortage occupation list, which allows trusts to recruit from overseas providing there are no suitable UK workers.

The Royal College of Midwives says this will make it impossible for the government to recruit the extra 3,000 midwives needed under commitments laid out in Maternity Matters, published in April.

Under Maternity Matters, by the end of 2009 all expectant mothers will have more choice over their care and where they give birth. In addition, every woman will have access to a midwife she 'knows and trusts' throughout her pregnancy, birth and aftercare.

RCM deputy general secretary Louise Silverton told HSJ that without bringing in extra midwives from overseas, changes such as these would not be possible.

'Birth rates are going up and the work is getting more complicated but there are vacancy freezes,' she said. 'Training budgets have been cut and some places are laying off teaching staff.'

There are thought to be hundreds of people who trained to be midwives at a cost to the state of£45,000 each, but have been unable to find work due to recruitment freezes.

Many of those who found alternative employment would be difficult to entice back and would require refresher courses, Ms Silverton said.

A total of 37 staff groups will be removed from the Home Office shortage occupation list under the plans, which have been drawn up following a three-month study.

They include consultants in urology, dermatology and general surgery, as well as nurses in audiology, pathology and cardiac physiology.

The Department of Health was unavailable for comment.