Denise Linay on developing maternity roles at the RCM

By Denise Linay, Head of Organising and Engagement on 21 September 2020 Maternity Services MSWs - Maternity Support Workers

At the end of this month I retire after nearly 30 years working for the RCM. I must have walked through the RCM’s iconic blue door thousands of times. Last month, that door was closed for the last time. As with any move there was a serious declutter to be undertaken. Sorting out what needed to be crated up for the new home, what could be thrown out and what could be claimed as personal memorabilia. For me, the latter was particularly poignant.

I had a desk, a bookcase, and a filing cabinet to sort out. Full of articles, documents, research reports that I had accumulated since I first became involved in all things maternity support worker (MSW). From supporting research commissioned by the Department of Health back in 2007, the consultation on extending RCM membership to MSWs in 2009 through to the MSW education and competency framework being launched by Health Education England (HEE) at the beginning of 2019.

I found an article, long forgotten, that I co-wrote for the British Journal of Midwifery back in 2010. My fellow authors were Richard Griffin, Jacque Dunkley-Bent and Jon Skewes. I was in good company.

The article was on the development of maternity support roles in the UK. It sought to explain the evolution and development of the role and what needed to happen for it to become an enduring part of the NHS workforce.

Now that I am into my last few weeks with the RCM, I can look back and claim that I did my upmost to make that happen. A lot of what I did at the time of that article and beyond was to be a pain in the proverbial. I got used to being asked at national meetings what an MSW was, but they never asked again. I had to get use to the eye rolling when I reminded others that MSWs needed to be considered in any discussion on support workers. I was determined that the needs of MSWs would not be swallowed up by the much larger healthcare assistant workforce.

Over the years, the RCM has had its fair share of celebration and disappointment. We now have education and competency frameworks for MSWs in each of the UK countries. Our trade union/professional organisation colleagues can only look on with envy at such an achievement. But our arguments for a maternity bespoke Care Certificate fell on deaf ears.

What can be claimed is that the role of the MSW is now well established and they are valued for the huge contribution they make to the maternity service.

However, their value is not universally reflected in their salary. Anecdotally, we have known for a long time that many MSWs are not pay banded correctly. We now have the evidence. They are undertaking roles and responsibilities that should be pay banded at 3 or 4 but they are in band 2 jobs. Sadly, this practice has become endemic across the NHS. There are now MSWs and HCAs undertaking tasks that require a significant level of knowledge and skill but receiving the lowest salary in the NHS.

This has to stop. I had hoped to see fair renumeration for all MSWs before I retired but alas this will not be the case. But in my last couple of weeks I am proud to be part of a campaign to get all MSWs paid correctly.