One giant step: Can the new strategy kickstart maternity research?

By Dr Sara Webb, MIDIRS, Head of Midwifery Information and Resource Services on 25 May 2023 Maternity Services RCM UK Midwives Midwifery Workforce Midwifery Research

With the publication of the England Chief Midwifery Officer’s maternity research strategy, MIDIRS, Head of Midwifery Information and Resource Services, Dr Sara Webb welcomes the framework as a first step to improving research in midwifery care and the emphasis on the importance of buy-in from midwifery staff and other research and health care professionals.

Research has always been an integral part of my role as a midwife. Since the day I graduated and registered with the NMC I have wanted to improve care and find missing answers to the many questions women and their families voiced. But the path into midwifery research hasn’t always been easy.

My peers have been interested and supportive in my passion for research but over the years I found senior midwifery management would not show as much enthusiasm. In part this was due to the myth that research was something midwives did if they couldn’t hack clinical roles, or something to get a qualification in. Undertaking research as part of a clinical role was something that more often than not belonged to the doctors.

Whether because of or in spite of this, I ended up finding three fantastic mentors in surprising places. My mentors were not midwives but they were professionals who championed midwifery-led research and the importance of addressing the inequity within the midwifery profession for clinical academic careers. And they helped create a platform for me as a midwifery researcher. But I always hoped the interest would shift in midwifery leaders.

That is why I was so pleased to see the Chief Midwifery Officer launch England’s Strategic Plan for research. This is the first ever framework to set out ways to promote, develop and invest in maternity and neonatal research activity across NHS England (NHSE) – and how we can   partner with others to improve safety and provide more personalised care. The Strategy aims are aligned with the RCM’s ethos on research. In fact, the upcoming RCM Research Prioritisation Project will inform the first aim of the Strategy – the timely identification of research priorities and gaps in evidence.

This Strategic Plan is so much more than demonstrating a commitment to midwifery-led research: it’s the start to embedding it into midwifery career structures and job roles.

In 2022, a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) survey showed consultant midwives spent only nine per cent of their working hours undertaking research activities, despite this being a specified duty of their role. This could be down to lack of time and investment but is often misconstrued as being less important than other aspects of a consultant midwife’s role. And then before you know it, it’s goodbye research in the job spec.

Research is vital for service improvement. There must be investment to achieve a sustainable, growing research workforce. For years investment in midwifery-led research to improve maternity and neonatal care has been lacking. The Strategic Plan is the framework that needs buy in from  many collaborators, services users and provider organisations and staff.

The Strategic Plan is the first much needed step in embedding midwifery research at the heart of maternity and neonatal care and at the heart of the role of the midwife. We have a plan and now we need the resources to deliver it. The RCM is committed to improving the profile of midwifery led research and look forward to seeing how we can work together to turn this strategy into the results we want to see.

Visit the RCM Research Hub for resources on how the RCM can help you on your research journey.