Avoiding an identity crisis

By Gill Walton, Chief Executive on 19 May 2021

I am going to have to come clean. I love watching Call the Midwife. I try not to watch it, but I just get hooked in again and again. I see the history of midwifery unravel before me. This week it dawned on me that the midwives are looking more nurse like and losing that midwife look!

One of my passions is promoting the midwifery profession – not as a branch of nursing but as something distinctive and separate. Midwives need to make sure that they are not confused with nurses. There is of course evidence that this is very important. A woman needs to feel equal and empowered by the midwife. Feeling equal is so important, and so is perception. Even a nursing-style uniform can disrupt this relationship.

The identity of a midwife has a strong link to the safety of maternity services. Safety is embedded in the ability of midwives to be able to empower women, to be their advocates at all levels and to make sure the care they receive is right for them. When midwives are confused with another profession their identity gets lost and so does their voice, not only for themselves, but for the women in their care. It is not just in the UK that strengthening the midwifery profession as separate from nursing is essential, this is a global campaign too.

So why may I ask is the NHS in England consulting on new uniforms for nurses, midwives and AHPs which do little or nothing to differentiate between midwives and nurses? This is not just about our identity as an autonomous profession, but rooted in the very need for women to be clear who is looking after them. Role confusion also stops the midwife voice throughout the NHS, which is key to the future development of safe services.

I have always campaigned in the services where I have worked for a midwife uniform or a professional image that is distinct from other professions. That includes not wearing uniform as a senior member of the team that designates hierarchy, another thing not required to be with women. A midwife is a midwife is a midwife.

There is also a question of what to wear. Midwifery is such a varied role: in the community one minute, on the labour ward the next! What do you need to wear that helps you be identifiable, comfortable, flexible and proud?

To the outside world, the NHS Supply Chain consultation on uniforms might seem trivial – but for me, and I’m sure many of you as well, it’s fundamental to my identity as a midwife. This is such an important issue for the future identity of our profession in the UK and as an example for the midwifery profession across the world. That’s why I’m looking to our tens of thousands of members working in the NHS in England to take part in the consultation and make your voices heard.

Access the RCM consultation here