One thing colleagues asked as I left the NHS to become chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives last year was could I please get them more midwives. In September at a Trades Union Congress rally in Parliament Square I shouted from a double-decker bus: “Jeremy Hunt, give us more midwives and more pay!” He heard.
Of course, this is all tongue in cheek. The RCM has consistently brought the shortage of midwives to everyone’s attention over many years and there has been renewed imperative to address the issue with the planned implementation of Better Births. This means changes to the maternity care model, with increased responsibility for midwives – particularly with the introduction of carer continuity.
Now there is a recognition and commitment to increase midwifery training places, review and develop national standards, develop competencies for maternity support workers (MSWs) and review routes into midwifery. We now have to think about how this is achieved, attract new midwives into the profession, keep those that we already have and encourage those who left to return.
We need to talk about the good aspects of midwifery. We have the privilege of supporting women in pregnancy, birth and on their journey to becoming a new family. Every woman should have a midwife who supports her, understands her and helps her understand her choices, ensuring she has the right care from the right team at the right time.
Many midwives report staffing levels as one of the key reasons for leaving or considering leaving the profession – they are upset and dissatisfied that they cannot give women the best care. Supporting these staff to stay so they can mentor and support students and new midwives is a key way to turn the shortage tide. We need to increase the help we offer each other, support our leaders and create innovative ways of dealing with our ever-growing workload – and keep sharing our ideas.
The RCM’s Caring for You campaign is one way to make sure every member of staff feels cared for and valued. It has led to many positive outcomes, such as more midwives being able to take a break and have hand massages and cake on busy days, a greater sense of camaraderie. We have to work together to create a positive momentum to influence our own destiny and increase the workforce. While training and employing additional midwives we will have to stay positive and focused – sometimes in the face of adversity – but, as these new midwives enter the NHS, it should get better.
I also welcome the opportunity to develop the role of MSWs, who are vital members of the team. In some maternity services, where this role is well developed, midwives can be freed up to do the things only they can – such as enabling one-toone care in labour. MSWs improve the quality of care given to expectant parents and babies, and have a direct impact on increasing their satisfaction with that care. In November, the RCM held MSW month and the heart-warming stories and mutual respect for these staff was clear. So let’s have more, train more and help some of them become midwives of the future.
We are making great progress: more people are becoming midwives and we are achieving greater recognition of the key role of MSWs and better training for them. We must stick together and support each other through the current difficult times – the national maternity policy points to a bright future for women and midwives.
Gill Walton is chief executive, Royal College of Midwives.