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New RCM leader targets boosting senior midwife profile

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A new union chief executive has used her first major speech to pledge to “strengthen” the profile of midwifery leadership in trusts and other service providers.

Gill Walton, the Royal College of Midwives new chief executive, called on every relevant NHS provider to have in place a director of midwifery, equivalent to a director of nursing.

“I’m going to work to strengthen our midwifery leadership”

Gill Walton

She targeted the profile of the profession in her opening address to delegates at the RCM’s annual conference today. Ms Walton told delegates at the event in Manchester that she had set herself a clear goal on midwifery leadership.

“It worries me that midwifery leaders aren’t in the right place in NHS organisations – too often they are overloaded with responsibility for other specialties which can prove a distraction from maternity,” she said.

“I’m going to work to strengthen our midwifery leadership,” she said. “My key target is that in five years’ time, every NHS employer will have a director of midwifery, equivalent to the director of nursing, who is responsible and accountable for the care women receive and who will act as the women’s advocate.

“If we could get this right then this would underpin everything else that we do,” she told the conference.

The two-day conference attended by midwives, maternity support workers and students from across the UK will be for many RCM members the first opportunity they have had to meet the new leader.

Ms Walton, who previously led maternity services at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, took over from Professor Cathy Warwick, who retired from the role of RCM chief executive in August.

Ms Walton also revealed safety and partnership as comprising her top three priorities, along with leadership.

“The relationships that we form in the workplace are the key to safety,” she said. “We must strengthen partnerships with other health professionals so that we can debate and discuss the future of safe maternity care, so that together we can give clear information to women and families.

“I have to mention midwifery and obstetric staffing issues,” she said. “There are huge gaps in some services which contribute to real concerns. When things go wrong, often the underpinning issue is that of relationships.

Temporary staffing costs in UK maternity units rose to almost £100m last year, according to figures obtained by the RCM and revealed earlier today to coincide with its conference.

“Healthy relationships at all levels – clinical, system, regional, national, across professions – need to be supported if we are to develop the ambition of multi-disciplinary working which underpins safe care,” she noted.

She added: “Where barriers exist, we need to recognise that these are within professions as much as they are between professions.”

Ms Walton highlighted current collaborative work on safety being planned by the RCM with other royal colleges, such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“The RCM has a particularly important role to play in ensuring that you have access to the evidence in a way that you can understand,” she told delegates.

“You in turn need to help women to understand the evidence in a way that makes sense to them and enables them to make choices that are right for them,” she said. “It is you, the midwife, who has the key role in ensuring that women are able to weigh up the benefits and risks related to their choices.”

While her speech primarily tackled issues on safety, better choice and information for women and stronger multi-disciplinary working, she did refer to the issue of pay.

Referring to recent comments from health secretary Jeremy Hunt, she said: “I’m glad to report that it appears as if our efforts have paid off. But that is not enough; the government must go further.

“It must commit to fully funding a real-terms pay increase for midwives, midwifery support workers and all our other hard-working NHS staff and public sector workers,” she said.

The RCM’s 2017 annual conference is taking place in Manchester Central during 31 October and 1 November. 

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