A new hope
Every new year feels like a beginning, but there's something about a new decade that feels like a fresh start. A new decade has a way of making us look to the future, rather than reflect on the past, and that is certainly how 2020 has felt so far. Obviously, for the RCM, 2020 has particular poignancy as it's also the first-ever International Year of the Midwife. Perhaps it's this combination that has us feeling hopeful about what is to come.
But hope doesn't only come from fresh starts and new beginnings: it also comes from being heard. In November last year, we launched our Midwives Manifesto, five key pledges we asked General Election candidates and, by extension, political parties to support. Our asks were simple, but they underpinned our ambitions for better maternity services:
- Help our student midwives to make ends meet
- Review the resources that maternity services get
- Champion midwifery leadership
- Give the people the final say on Brexit
- Improve maternal mental health care
Of course, we were not the only organisation or profession making demands of policy-makers. In a general election, it's a crowded field and even those with the biggest platforms and the loudest voices can sometimes go unheard. Sometimes, though, calm common sense can win through.
Thanks to the work done by you – writing to candidates, talking to them when they came knocking on your door – alongside our work centrally at the RCM, we can already say that we're making a difference. In the eight short weeks since the general election, we are already making significant progress on three of our five asks.
From September this year, all student midwives will receive a grant of £5,000 per year to support them during their studies. We know that there is all too often a financial barrier to studying midwifery and this grant will go some way to overcome that. We're not complacent. We know there is still more work to be done, but this is a strong start from the new government.
Just yesterday (6 February), the British Medical Association, NHS England and NHS Improvement announced additional funding as part of the new GP contract to support practices to deliver a six-to-eight-week postnatal health check for new mothers. This will make a huge impact on improving maternal mental health.
And in the background, the NHS People Plan, which is due to be rolled out in the coming weeks, also offers hope for maternity services. Policy-makers are paying heed to our calls for more resources to support growing demand and more women-centred care.
Not to be outdone by England, progress is also being made in the rest of the country. In Northern Ireland, we finally have the promise of pay parity, with a new deal currently being consulted on. And the Scottish Government has pledged an additional £6 million for the Best Start programme across the country.
We are not so naïve to think these changes will solve all the problems and challenges you face in your Trusts and Boards, units and wards. But they are a start, an indication of a positive direction of travel.
And perhaps, in this Year of the Midwife, they offer us the promise of a fresh start and a new hope.