Stepping up: Being an MSW during COVID

By Chrissy Joyce, RCM rep and maternity support worker on 19 June 2020 coronavirus Maternity Services

Chrissy Joyce, an RCM rep and MSW at Imperial, writes about her experience of the changing landscape during the pandemic – and the need for community.

Not long before everyone and everything went into lockdown, I was elected as an RCM steward for Imperial. First on the list was the four-day training course, which I was really looking forward to, not only for the chance to fully understand my role as steward but, to be honest, also for a very welcome break from manic Mum duties! When I was first elected, the branch thought our priorities would be around IDM and education – needless to say, that changed very quickly.

Because of staffing changes due to COVID, I was one of the few RCM reps onsite. It was important to me that staff knew I was in a position to listen and that RCM are available. Being in a position of support when so many staff have felt so vulnerable has enabled me to shape how I want to approach my role as steward. We need to re-look at our groups of staff not as teams but as a community and we, as the RCM branch, can be the hub/community centre that holds them together. We can show by example that we all have one common goal: to work well together and achieve our best each day, and to work more mindfully for both our own needs but also the needs of our colleagues.

I’ve been an MSW at St Mary’s in Paddington for 12 years, so I’m used to playing a supporting role in the team. During COVID, my role as feeding support worker diversified into broader support and counselling. Every mother, whether it was their first baby or just the latest, was anxious and tired. Not being able to have their partners with them wasn’t easy to live with, even though they all understood the reasons why. A lot of comforting and reassurance was needed - and learning to smile with your eyes was key!

I had to do more parent education and ensure they understood what protective measures to take when out in the community and if anyone in the house should become symptomatic. Because the rest of the feeding support team were re-deployed into their midwifery roles, I also made ward and A&E referrals for feeding support and assessments.

Just as important was ensuring the MSWs on duty also put me to work when needed, whether assisting with ward cleaning, patient transfers, observations, phlebotomy or sitting in for the ward clerks when they weren’t around.

Easing the burden of the team is important to me. Often, the importance of the MSWs and their role is undervalued and overlooked, not necessarily deliberately, but more out of a lack of understanding of what we do. I’m very much looking forward to helping work towards improving this in my role as RCM steward and supporting all staff in any way I can.