More renew than review – but welcome nonetheless

By Clare Livingstone, Professional Policy Advisor on 26 March 2021

The role of the midwife in helping to determine the future could not be clearer. The life chances of a child hinge on the first 1001 days from conception, so the evidence shows. The Leadsom Review outlines ambitions to give every baby the best start for life, regardless of background or where they live, their prospects will be ‘levelled up’.

The proposals are to be broadly welcomed, but what is actually new? The digitising of health records and specifically the ‘Red Book’ Child Health Record is eminently sensible and was announced as part of the NHS Long Term Plan back in January 2019. It has been a work in progress for some time now, with the RCM actively participating in the relevant programmes.

That Start for Life services will be delivered out of dedicated ‘hubs’ has an echo of the past about it too. The Sure Start Programme founded children’s centres in the late 90s, creating a ‘one stop shop’ for parents to access health, childcare and social support. Evaluation after evaluation has shown both the positive impact of early intervention for families, and that investment in Sure Start gave value for money, in terms of savings made to the public purse.

Sadly, Government funding cuts to local authorities’ budgets resulted in the closure of many children’s centres. Hopefully, in the Leadsom Review, we are seeing that lessons have been learned; short term austerity comes at the expense of long term child and family outcomes. What is less clear today, is where the money will come from to re-open these hubs and fulfil these ambitions?

Many midwives continue to hold clinics at children’s centres and are well plugged into the support that’s provided. On the way to see the midwife, mothers-to-be can see for themselves the services on offer – whether that be breastfeeding cafes or toddler drop ins. Children’s centres were always buzzing hives of activity – and that’s a great sales pitch, if ever one was needed!

Maternity care is part of a continuum, where a seamless transition should take parents and families from midwifery into health visiting, through the early years, education and the future beyond. Multidisciplinary teams function well when fully integrated and hubs have historically offered the best way to join services up. The RCM particularly welcomes the Review’s intention to tackle public health issues, such as stress and smoking in pregnancy, and know this requires the input of specialists and professionals, working together.

We look forward to seeing these vital services restored and a renewed focus on families, to ensure every child, whatever their background, enjoys the opportunities they need to thrive.