We must work together to fix maternity care, says RCM

on 19 October 2022 RCM Maternity Services Midwifery Midwives Staffing Levels Government NHS Staff Midwifery Workforce NHS Funding Maternity Safety Women

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has urged swifter progress to fix the systemic problems facing maternity care. The call comes following the publication by Dr Bill Kirkup CBE of his review of the failings at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust.

Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director Midwife at the RCM, said:

“Every woman should feel that they are properly supported, cared for and listened to by maternity staff throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. As this report points out, too often this was not the case at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, and that is something the RCM deeply regrets.

"What the women and families have been through at East Kent, and that tragedy has been made so much worse by attempts at the highest levels within the Trust to cover up the failings. The culture this created left staff frightened to raise concerns, which compounded the problems yet further. As Dr Kirkup’s report points out, the route to improved maternity services would be fatally undermined if individuals were deterred from reporting concerns. The RCM has a long and proud history of supporting those who raise concerns, including whistle blowers. Earlier this year we published updated guidance to support midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) to do just that.

"Everyone involved in maternity care should be able to stand up for high standards. Doing so is how we learn from errors and ensure they are not repeated. All of us - midwives, doctors, regulators and trust management - must work together to fix these toxic cultures that put women and babies at risk.”

This is the second report this year to highlight the need to address the system in which maternity care is delivered. In March, the Ockenden Report into maternity care at Shrewsbury & Telford Hospitals NHS Trust recommended that there be more concerted efforts – and, importantly, funding – to deliver the rapid improvements needed in maternity care. Despite those findings being accepted in their entirety by the Government, consistent progress has yet to be made.

As the professional association and trade union for midwives and maternity support workers, the RCM has no regulatory powers itself, but supports its members to practise within the code set out by the regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The College has long called for there to be greater provision for multi-disciplinary teams - including midwives, obstetricians and anaesthetists – to train together to support better working practices and cultures. Working with the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG), it is developing new programmes to address this, particularly in identifying high risk pregnancies. However, while these programmes are already delivering better outcomes, the College is clear that, without systemic change, maternity services will continue to struggle.

Birte Harlev-Lam concluded:

“We cannot have review after review, report after report, and nothing fundamentally changes. That does a disservice to the families who have already suffered, and to those who place their trust in NHS maternity care. There needs to be a laser-like focus on the systemic issues facing maternity care. We must listen, we must learn and most importantly we must act – and that requires commitment from the Government.”


To contact the RCM Media Office call 020 7312 3456, or email [email protected]. 

Notes to Editor

The Royal College of Midwives (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 | A professional organisation and trade union dedicated to serving the whole midwifery team