birth-optionsRunning through the speech and at its heart were the themes of women centred care, raising standards, safety and experience.

Highlighting her concerns surrounding women’s choice the RCMs Chief Executive said; “Despite the rhetoric, too many women are still denied a choice over fundamental issues, such as where they give birth. This is leaving many having a less than positive experience of pregnancy and birth. So while it is encouraging that the number of alongside midwifery units has virtually doubled in the last five years, the same cannot be said for FMUs and homebirths: although there has been a modest increase in the number of freestanding birth centres, the proportion of women birthing in them has barely increased and the home birth rate continues to fall”.*

Referring to the current midwife shortage in England of 3,500 midwives, Cathy said; “The birth rate in England has started to climb again and you are supporting a growing number of women with complex medical and social needs. Midwives have for a generation now done the best they can but it’s hard to run a consistently world-class service on a shoestring budget.

And there is one big threat on the horizon that could quickly make things worse. Here in England, we have well over a thousand NHS midwives who come from elsewhere in the European Union. They are the very people our maternity services desperately need. We are, frankly, lucky to have them and we should be saying thank you.

If the UK Government decides they cannot stay, England would go from being 3,500 midwives short to almost 5,000! This is a cheap way to toy with the lives of people who go to work every day to provide care and support for pregnant women and new mothers. It is time – today – for the Prime Minister to overrule the likes of Liam Fox and tell EU nationals working in our NHS that they can stay.”

Cathy also welcomed the Secretary of States Maternity Safety Action Plan launched earlier this week. The plan will focus on safer maternity care highlighting the need to reduce such tragic outcomes and acknowledges the need to reduce variation. She told delegates; “This plan has the RCM’s full support. If implemented it could have a significant and positive impact on the safety of England’s maternity services, and contribute towards better and safer care for mothers and babies.

“I really welcome the focus on public health, on reducing stillbirths and on improving services for pregnant women with maternal mental health problems. These are areas that desperately need attention. The RCM will do everything to help midwives achieve the objectives of this campaign.”

Cathy Warwick also challenged midwives and all maternity staff to strife to make a difference every day; saying “We all need to remember that we all have the power to make a difference To debrief the young newly qualified midwife who looks completely shell shocked at the end of a very busy shift, or to smile as yet another woman arrives on the labour ward in strong labour and all the rooms are full. To most importantly listen to the women and remember it’s their pregnancy, their birth not ours.”

Cathy’s speech also reflected the very difficult environment that midwives have to work in and the impact that has not only on the women they care for but also their own health. Highlighting the RCMs latest health and wellbeing campaign Caring for You which was launched in June, Cathy Warwick said; “We know from speaking to our Heads of Midwifery that they are having to temporarily suspend or reduce services and cut back on training and development opportunities because wards are short staffed. And we know from our workplace representatives that your work is intensifying, that you struggle to take your breaks you should be entitled to and that you are working extra hours that are go unpaid. This is leading to more midwives and MSWs feeling stressed and burnt out, to increases in sickness and turnover rates and that morale is suffering as a result.”

“We cannot continue as we are, relying as we do on over-stretched teams of midwives and MSWs to paper over the cracks. That is why the RCM launched our Caring for You campaign. The essence of our campaign is that NHS organisations sign-up to the Caring for You Charter and so far it has been a massive success. I am delighted to report that, to date, more than a quarter of NHS organisations have already signed-up to the Caring for You Charter.

You do not need me to tell you that if you feel that your employer is looking after you and that you are working in a supportive culture than you will give better care to women and babies.”

Ending her speech Cathy Warwick assured delegates that the RCM would challenge the pay review body to break the cap on pay awards, she said; “Ten years of pay restraint, six gone and four to come would mean our members being 9,000 pounds worse off by 2020 if the government gets its way. It must not.

No longer should our research show that midwives want to leave the NHS because the stress they suffer makes them fear for their mental health. No more should money be wasted on agency and temporary staff when the same money could end the shortage of midwives by employing more.”

*In England where the rate had reached 2.9 per cent in 2007 it has now fallen to 2.3 per cent; even in Wales, the one country with a target for home births, the rate is now down below 3 per cent.