Students take centre stage at first standalone conference

on 22 November 2023 Midwifery Midwives Midwifery Workforce Maternity Services NHS Government Student midwives SMF - Student Midwives Forum Study

The RCM’s first standalone student midwife conference took place in Doncaster this week, with students from all over the UK in attendance.

In her opening address, RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton said: “I know you’ll all be aware of the challenges faced by midwives and maternity services now. The fact that you haven’t let that put you off becoming a midwife is a great reflection on you: you clearly already have the grit and resilience every midwife needs.”

It's with the same grit and determination that the RCM continues to campaign and lobby for better financial support for student midwives. On Monday financial support for healthcare students was debated in the House of Commons. The debate included input from the RCM where the financial struggles for student midwives were front and centre. The College staunchly opposed the decision in 2016 to axe the student midwife bursary and has continued to argue for its full reintroduction.

The RCM has said if the Government is serious about tackling the recruitment issues in midwifery, they should be attempting to make the NHS as attractive as possible. Saddling newly qualified midwives with thousands of pounds worth of debt is only deterring those interested in training to become midwives, particularly acting as a barrier to those joining as mature students.

In a separate meeting in Parliament, RCM student midwife member Tolu Solola met with MPs and Peers to explain the hardship that is affecting student midwives since the removal of the bursary. Tolu’s lived experience further supports what the RCM has long been warning that plans to recruit and educate new midwives will be severely undermined unless substantial investment is made in midwifery education.

During the student conference Gill Walton also reflected on the challenges facing the profession, thanked student midwives and shared some key advice from her own long career as a midwife; “Listen to the midwives and MSWs and listen to the women too. Listening will help you understand and come up with the best solutions. Listening helps you be ‘with woman’, the most fundamental thing about being a midwife. You are her advocate and her voice. And that’s important to remember: her voice. Yes, you can advise and guide, but you have to respect her decisions and advocate accordingly.”

Working together and learning together was the theme for this year’s conference with the programme devised by the RCM’s Student Midwife Forum. That aspect of shared learning has been consistently stated by the RCM as an important factor in delivering stronger and safer maternity services.

The conference enabled students to share and highlight their experiences, as well as allowing them to raise concerns about the challenges they are facing as students. The student-led sessions, focussed on mental health and resilience, were particularly well-attended.