Gill Walton has today taken over as leader of the Royal College of Midwives.
She was appointed as the next chief executive and general secretary of the RCM in May and, from 4 September, has officially taken up her new post at its headquarters in London.
“I begin my tenure at the RCM at an interesting time, a time of great change and challenge”
Ms Walton succeeds Professor Cathy Warwick who has led the RCM since 2008 and has now retired from her role.
Professor Warwick led the college through a period of uncomfortable national scrutiny for the midwifery profession during the Kirkup review into care failings at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria, which resulted in the avoidable deaths of 11 babies and one mother.
Under Professor Warwick, the union also went out on strike in October 2014 for the first time in its 133-year history. Along with other unions, it successfully challenged an attempt by the government not to introduce a 1% blanket pay increase for all NHS staff on Agenda for Change.
However, the present leadership change comes at a time when the college faces uncertainty over its policy direction, following a long-running row with campaigners over its stance on so-called “natural birth”.
As recently reported by Nursing Times, the RCM last month dropped its “normal birth” campaign and removed advice for midwives from its website, acknowledging that it could have been “misleading”.
The college has faced criticism in the press and from patient groups over its promotion of “normal births”, in the wake of the previous failings at Furness General.
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Up until recently, Ms Walton was director of midwifery and maternity services at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.
The college described has as a “passionate midwife, experienced midwifery leader and manager”.
New chief executive takes over at midwives’ union
She started nursing at University College Hospital, and then undertook her midwifery training at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton.
Previously, she has held director of midwifery posts at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Ms Walton has also been at the forefront of many transformation programmes for maternity services, as well as several national maternity related projects, said the RCM in a statement.
It highlighted that she had been involved in national policy and strategy development, including work with the RCM, Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Department of Health.
Commenting on her first day in her new post, Ms Walton said: “I’m delighted and very much looking forward to my new role as chief executive and general secretary at the RCM.
“The RCM is an organisation I have been a member of for many years, I have tremendous respect and admiration for all it does not only as a trade union for midwives and maternity support workers, but also as one the most respected voices of midwifery across the UK and beyond,” she said.
She added: “I wish Cathy Warwick a wonderful retirement and thank her for her incredible leadership, invaluable work and all she has done at the RCM for our members and for women and their families.
“I begin my tenure at the RCM at an interesting time, a time of great change and challenge for our maternity services and with challenge brings opportunity to really make a difference,” said Ms Walton.
“I’m also really looking forward to working with and supporting all our members across all four UK countries to help strengthen a positive future for midwives and maternity support workers,” she said.