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Meet the president

13 March, 2012

Meet the president

Rob Dabrowksi talks to Lesley Page, the accomplished midwife, campaigner and academic, who is starting a new chapter in her career as RCM president.
Midwives magazine: Issue 2 :: 2012

Rob Dabrowksi talks to Lesley Page, the accomplished midwife, campaigner and academic, who is starting a new chapter in her career as RCM president.

Lesley Page

She has published more than 200 journal articles, served on three national committees and worked and lectured in 13 countries around the world.

She has also written three books, racked up more than 32 years practising and has a 24-page-long CV.

But for Professor Lesley Page, who has been elected the RCM’s next president, midwifery is not about qualifications and prestigious titles.

‘I think my background is probably quite unique,’ she tells Midwives. ‘I’ve managed to integrate clinical work with managerial and academic work. I’ve got a lot of experience in different areas, and in different ways of practising and working, and I feel I have a great deal to offer this position.

‘But I’ve always prided myself on knowing exactly what it is like to be a midwife in practice, which is something that gives me a huge amount of joy.’

It is her passion for grassroots midwifery that she hopes will come to the fore in her new position with the RCM.

‘I believe that when the baby is born, the mother is also born and I think that, as midwives, we can help women learn their own strength,’ she says.

‘I think that the most important thing is that we are flexible and responsive to the needs of women – we need services in which midwives can provide care that is sensitive and safe for women.’

Lesley, who currently practises for Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, was sitting at her computer replying to emails when she found out she had been elected.

‘I saw an email from the RCM and as soon as I opened it and saw the news, I was over the moon,’ she smiles. ‘Over the following days, I had hundreds of emails and Facebook messages and I spent a couple of days just replying to them.

‘I think, once the intense excitement had subsided, the feeling I had was that it was such a great honour to be elected by midwives into such an important role, in the profession I love.’
Lesley has been involved in midwifery since 1966, when she qualified after training as a nurse.
She joined the profession when the second wave of feminism was gathering momentum and calls for equality were echoing across the Atlantic.    

‘The women’s movement was under way and I started to discover how important good midwifery was, and how closely it was linked to feminism,’ she says.

‘I started to challenge routine practices within the hospital when I found that they weren’t good for women.

‘Like the fact that women weren’t allowed to eat anything during labour, in case they needed a caesarean section, which I thought was just ridiculous and not in any way evidence-based practice.’  

Then, in 1977, she travelled across the Atlantic to challenge not just routine practices but also national preconceptions about the midwifery profession.

‘I was about 30 years old when I moved over to British Columbia, and midwifery wasn’t legal in Canada at the time,’ she says. ‘So I became involved in the work to establish midwifery. I worked closely with midwives and senior obstetricians and we set up a project that became the first legally recognised midwife service in Canada, which is something I’m incredibly proud of.

‘I’ve travelled to 13 different countries and my travels have made me realise how precious the midwifery and maternity services are in the UK,’ she continues.

‘There are challenges at the moment, but we have a midwifery service that is respected and that people care about a great deal. It’s a profession seen with fondness and it is part of our culture.’

But it is these challenges that Lesley will have to face in her role as president, when she takes over from Liz Stephens on 2 April.

‘I think that the major challenge for me is a political one – we’ve got a lot of evidence that midwife-led care is safe and we need to make that a default option, but it’s often not easy to have evidence accepted,’ she states.

‘The results of the Birthplace study show that midwifery-led care is very safe and that midwives can practise in a number of different ways, and I think that we have a really important role to play. I plan to work with the other medical colleges to move that forward.

‘I’d like to see every woman in the UK have a genuine choice of place of birth and I’d like midwives to be able to choose where and how they work and be supported in that choice.’
At the end of her term, Lesley hopes to have made a genuine difference – the position means far more to her than another line on an already bulging CV. 

‘I would like people to say that when Lesley Page was president of the RCM, she understood the situation, worked to help develop and maintain the profession and move it forward so that midwives could choose the way they would practise and deliver sensitive, women-centred care.

‘I love the academic side of things, but I love the practical side too and, through the presidency of the RCM, I will help midwives wherever they work to give their best so that we can provide really good care around the time of birth.’ 

Fact file
Lesley Ann Page

► Served on national committees for the Department of Health, the House of Commons and The King’s Fund
► Deputy chair of the English National Board for Nursing Midwifery and Health Visiting (1993-99)
► Appointed professor of midwifery in 1992 – the first such appointment in the UK
► Academic focus on the development and evaluation of one-to-one midwifery, using evidence in practice and evaluation of place of birth
► Influential book The new midwifery: science and sensitivity in practice has been translated into French and Japanese
► Involved in establishing midwifery programmes at universities in Canada
► Visiting professor at King’s College London, the University of Technology, Sydney, and the University of Sydney
► Involved in clinical practice and experienced in every area of practice, including hospital, community, birth centre and home birth
► Honorary fellow of the RCM, in recognition of considerable contribution to the profession
► Awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 2005 by the University of Technology, Sydney
► President of the Maternity and Newborn Forum section of the Royal Society of Medicine
► Member of the Association of Radical Midwives and Medical Justice
► Vice chair of Scientific Committee at the Humanization of Birth Conference in Brazil
► Extensive experience of externally examining PhDs for universities around the world 
► Has written forewords for nine books.

Click here to see a video of Lesley talking about her aspirations for the future.

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