Student midwife debt should ‘shame’ Government says RCM CEO in conference opening speech

on 24 September 2019 RCM Annual Conference Student midwives Leadership Safety Midwife Shortage Brexit

A call to reintroduce the bursary for student midwives came from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Chief Executive, Gill Walton in her RCM Annual Conference opening speech in Manchester today.

The speech comes on the day the RCM releases the results of a survey of student midwives which shows many have considered leaving their training because of financial pressures. Addressing a packed conference of 3000 midwives, student midwives and maternity support workers she said that ‘It should frankly shame the Government in England who have effectively left students facing thousands of pounds worth of debt when they qualify’.

In her speech Gill Walton also repeated the RCM’s call for another referendum on EU membership and highlighted the importance of leadership in midwifery.

Mentioning the fall - particularly in England - in applications for midwifery training Gill again calls for the reinstatement of the bursary for student midwives.  ‘We shall continue to make the case for the restoration of the bursary in England. In Scotland and Wales…we have lobbied for the retention and increase in the value of student bursaries’.

Gill’s speech also focuses on the RCM’s core messages of safe, secure, together and leadership. In her safe and secure messages Gill highlights the importance of caring for midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs), so that they in turn care deliver even better and safer care to women, babies and their families.

Stressing the importance of the working together message was a key part of the speech. Gill focussed on the importance of working collaboratively with governments and other health professions to deliver safer and higher quality care.

Key to this is the One Voice initiative. This is a collaboration between the RCM, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, Sands (the stillbirth and neonatal death charity), National Childbirth Trust and the Institute of Health Visitors.

Gill announced a One Voice event to be held later in the autumn at the House of Commons. Here the group will ask MPs to make maternity services a priority in this Parliament. She said One Voice is also lobbying the Health and Social Care Committee to launch a new inquiry into maternity services in England.       

Leadership is a key element running through the RCM’s work. Citing the importance of leadership Gill said, ‘We need strong midwifery leadership to deliver the high quality, safe maternity services that all of us strive to provide…last month I was proud to launch the RCM Leadership Manifesto, which sets out seven steps that will support strong, effectively midwifery leadership and ensure that the voice of midwifery reaches the highest levels of management…’.

Gill also repeated the RCM’s calls for a second referendum on EU membership. She cites the big fall in the number of midwives from the EU who are working in the UK’s maternity services at a direct consequence of Brexit. This adds more pressure on maternity staff and the maternity care provided to all women suffers she added. Supporting a second referendum she said ‘This is even more important now that the Prime Minister is threatening to walk away without a deal – something that was not on the ballot paper in 2016 and for which there is no mandate.’

Midwifery shortages remain a pressing issue. Highlighting the the increasing complexity of maternity care and demands on maternity services Gill said ‘we are still thousands of midwives short in England…we continue to make the case for tackling midwife shortages’. She added, ‘we will be monitoring the Government’s commitment to investing in 3,000 more training places over the next four years’.

Perinatal mental health also featured with Gill saying services for women with mental health services needed to improve. In her speech Gill Walton called on  governments across the UK to invest more into funding services for women suffering with pregnancy related mental health problems. She repeated the RCM’s call for every provider of maternity services to have a specialist midwife in post to enable women who are unwell to get the very best care and support they need.


The RCM Annual Conference is running on Tuesday, 24th and Wednesday, 25th September at Manchester Central. For more information on the RCM Annual Conference see


For more information on the RCM student midwife survey visit


For more information on the RCM Leadership Manifesto visit .


The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at