Here at the RCM we have been lobbying the government to clarify what the position of European midwives will be after the UK has left the European Union.
It is almost 18 months since the referendum and well over six months since the government formally notified the EU that the country would part with the bloc, yet we are still in limbo.
This is important, especially given the vital contribution EU midwives make. In March, at the time the prime minister was writing to the president of the European Council to start the two-year countdown to exit, just shy of 1400 midwives working in the NHS in England identified themselves as nationals of other EU countries. Working full-time, that many midwives could be expected to provide care for around 40,000 women over the course of a year.
Some areas, such as London, are particularly reliant on their contribution. In the north-west London area, for example, around one in six midwives have identified themselves as citizens of other EU countries. In another trust, it is one in three.
Across the UK as a whole, over 1800 EU midwives are registered with the NMC. Working full-time, that number of midwives could provide care for well over 50,000 women each year.
But the flow of EU midwives into the UK has all but dried up. Since the referendum, the number of EU midwives registering with the regulator is down 94%, from more than one a day to around one a fortnight.
The government should provide these midwives with a cast-iron guarantee that they can stay post-Brexit – no ifs, no buts. And ministers should move quickly to set out the rules that will apply to new midwives after Brexit too. What is needed, fast, is clarity.
Many other issues are whirling around that the RCM is fighting hard on. November sees the budget, and alongside many other NHS and public sector trade unions, the RCM is making the case for a fair pay rise for midwives, MSWs and others. After years of grinding pay restraint, with prices rising faster than wages, NHS staff right across the UK find themselves worse off. This must end.
And the need for more midwives is as urgent as ever. The government likes to boast that the number of midwives in England is up by 1800 since 2010. But in the past year the number of full-time equivalent midwives in the NHS rose just 55. Midwife numbers may have been on the up a few years ago, but that is over and we need action from ministers to address this issue.
It is these and other issues that we took to the party conferences in September and October, meeting MPs from across the political spectrum to make our case. We made some new political friends and will be asking them to help us during the year ahead.