What the parties are offering in this election

By Stuart Bonar, RCM public affairs advisor on 29 November 2019 Government Politics

On 12 December we head to the polls in the first December general election in almost a century. But it is not just the timing of the vote that makes this historic, the choice that we face is historic too.

We are at a crossroads. Realistically, the choice before us is to leave the EU under Boris Johnson’s deal by the end of January or a short renegotiation of key parts of the deal to strengthen things like employment rights and environment protections followed by a binding referendum on that new deal within six months.

The RCM believes that there are grave risks from Brexit. New trade barriers will hit the economy, which inevitably means less tax income and therefore less money to invest in the NHS, for example to train and recruit more midwives and to pay the midwives we do have a fair wage.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and Northern Ireland parties like the Alliance and the SDLP all support a People’s Vote. The Conservatives, the Brexit Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists do not.

But for the RCM the biggest issue will always be the National Health Service, and the parties have much to say about what they would do for the NHS.

The Conservative manifesto is silent on midwife numbers, although they have already committed to train an extra 3,000 over & above existing plans. The party did however commit to reintroducing the bursary for student midwives, which they themselves abolished only a few years ago. They now say that every student midwife will get between £5,000 and £8,000 per year to help them cover their living expenses.

The party has also committed in its manifesto to “make the NHS the best place in the world to give birth”. On one level that sounds almost pointlessly vague, but on another level it is something that we can leverage to put pressure on any Conservative government, should they win, to improve the service in any number of ways. How can it be the best in the world, for example, if the NHS in England is carrying a shortage of 2,500 midwives?

Labour have said openly that there is a shortage of midwives and that they will produce a plan to address the shortage. That will be helped by the party’s manifesto commitments to above-inflation pay rises for NHS staff, to write Agenda for Change terms & conditions into law and for better mental health support for NHS staff too. That is all to be welcomed.

And Labour has also promised to reintroduce bursaries for student midwives and others.

In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats have committed to transform perinatal mental health support, including by ensuring every new mother gets a dedicated maternal postnatal appointment. Labour have made a similar commitment in their manifesto.

The Lib Dems even name-checked the RCM when they committed to introducing baby boxes in England, which provide new mums with a whole host of essential items. This would echo the scheme already in place in Scotland.

The SNP manifesto had less to say on specifics about the NHS but this is because healthcare in Scotland is already devolved to Scotland, so is not directly governed by politicians at Westminster. That said, the SNP wants to see health spending increased in England as this would automatically entitle the Scottish Government to more funds that it could itself then spend on the Scottish NHS.

The SNP would also like to see guarantees that protect the NHS from being a bargaining chip in any post-Brexit trade deals.

In their manifesto the Greens focused on the need for all women to receive care from a single midwife. Under Green plans, baby clinics would be expanded so that women get access to health visitors and can take their babies for regular checkups at a location and time that is convenient for them.

In its manifesto the Brexit Party sets out its desire to end the status of midwifery and nursing as all-graduate professions, reopening non-academic routes into the professions.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru has committed in its manifesto to restoring the specialist mother & baby unit for mothers suffering from severe mental illness, for which efforts and plans are already underway. Added to that they also want to see maternity services within an hour’s reach of rural and peripheral communities.

In Northern Ireland, the Alliance – in their manifesto – make it clear that they would like to see money freed up to fund public sector pay rises. Like the Lib Dems, the DUP mention baby boxes in their manifesto, as well as the need to increase NHS pay.

And of course the RCM itself has produced a manifesto, with five priority areas where we want to see progress in the next Parliament.

So, it is a big choice we face with many options before us. We encourage you to get in touch with the candidates standing in your area - you can find out who they are and how to contact them HERE – and challenge them on the issues most important to you. Please use the RCM manifesto as inspiration.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at [email protected].