Celebrating a decade of MSWs

By Denise Linay on 27 March 2019 MSWs - Maternity Support Workers MSW advocates Midwives

This April, the RCM celebrates the 10th anniversary of the opening up of membership to support workers in maternity. Apparently, this is an anniversary celebrated by a gift of aluminium or tin but we'll probably stick with cake.


I have had the privilege of supporting RCM MSW membership from the start. As a trade union and professional organisation we were fairly late to the table. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) had introduced support worker membership in 2001 but when we had tentatively dipped our toe in the water it was evident, sadly, that our members were not supportive of such a move and MSWs not particularly interested in joining us.


I became involved in the world of MSWs in 2007 when as a RCM Project Manager I was asked to support research commissioned by the Department of Health on the learning offer to MSWs. It made sad reading in that for many it was non existent with very little opportunity for development unless they chose to train as a midwife. It struck me at the time, as it struck others, that the only way this was going to be addressed was for the RCM to have a bona fide claim on representing the interests of MSWs.


At the same time it was starting to feel that the opposition to widening RCM membership to include MSWs was softening and that MSWs were becoming increasingly interested in joining the RCM. So in 2008 the RCM commenced a year long consultation with members, stakeholders and most importantly MSWs on a new category of membership.


It would be easy to look back to that consultation through rose coloured spectacles. It paved the way to a massive change in the RCM. But moving through that year was challenging. Many were extremely supportive of our intentions. For them it made perfect sense. MSWs needed the protection of an organisation that understood the demands of working in maternity and had the knowledge and experience to advocate on their behalf. Midwives wanted the same for their colleagues but also the reassurance that the RCM would be able to act in the best interests of the whole maternity team.


Unfortunately, not everyone took this view with a few being vitriolic in their opposition. This I found very distressing and difficult to comprehend. However, we pushed on explaining to midwives, MSWs and anyone that would listen why we believed it was important for MSWs to be part of the RCM. At the end of the year we had a strong mandate to introduce a MSW membership which we launched in April 2009.


Reflecting back on the last ten years is interesting. In many ways the RCM has achieved so much. Back in 2009, I would often be asked at national meetings what a MSW was that doesn't happen now, MSWs are much more appreciated for the excellent work they do. A huge achievement was the launch of the Health Education England (HEE) MSW Competency, Education, and Career Development Framework a couple of months ago following in the paths of the other UK countries. A RCM MSW member was on the Implementation Team alongside HOMs, educationalists and other stakeholders. We have increasing numbers of MSWs that are being elected as workplace representatives, branch officers and MSW Advocates. Last month, RCM members voted for the right of MSW members to stand for the RCM Board. This vote was won.


And lets not forget how the role of the MSW is celebrated at the RCM Awards and during MSW Week.


But the RCM would be wrong to take its foot off the accelerator as we still have a lot to achieve. We need to continue to lobby for all MSWs to have access to quality education and training. We want MSWs to have career aspirations that are achievable and above all else that they are paid fairly for the excellent work that they do.  


But let today be about celebration. I for one am very proud of the organisation I work for and the MSWs and midwives that have worked so hard to get MSWs recognised as essential to the delivery of good quality maternity care. Here's to the next 10 years and our platinum anniversary. We had better start saving up!