Getting maternity care into election manifestos

By Stuart Bonar on 14 June 2024

Over halfway through this election campaign, and polling day, Thursday 4 July, is starting to appear much more clearly on the horizon. Indeed, people who applied for a postal vote will soon be putting an X next to their preferred candidate, locking in their decision, and posting their ballot paper back to the council. And almost all the main parties have now published their manifestos. We are almost there.

Those manifestos are a crucial test of how well the RCM has done over recent years at getting our messages across to politicians and the political parties. Only so much can be included in them. Much will be left on the cutting room floor. So, how well did we do at getting our priorities into manifestos, and what are the parties promising for maternity care and for midwives and MSWs?

If the BBC poll tracker is right and there are no surprises between now and polling day, Labour looks set to do well, so let us start with what they are promising in their manifesto.

Here is a key section from it: “Childbirth should not be something women fear or look back on with trauma. Labour will ensure that trusts failing on maternity care are robustly supported into rapid improvement. We will train thousands more midwives as part of the NHS Workforce Plan and set an explicit target to close the Black and Asian maternal mortality gap.”

There is quite a lot in that, and their commitment to “thousands more midwives” and to closing the appalling maternal mortality gap that hits Black and Asian women, are specifically things the RCM called on the parties to commit to in this election.

We also asked parties to commit to fixing the crumbling NHS estate, which often affects maternity units most of all. The Labour manifesto states: “It is also clear that NHS estates are in a state of disrepair after years of neglect. Labour is therefore committed to delivering the New Hospitals Programme.”

Additionally, Labour has committed itself in its manifesto to start the process, within 100 days, of repealing recent anti-union laws, all of which the RCM campaigned against. The package is expected to include a lot more changes, to improve working conditions. This meets our call for better, fairer working rules and practices.

The Conservatives are fighting to stay in government, so what have they promised in their manifesto? Like Labour, they have included a specific section on maternity care. Incidentally, to have dedicated sections on maternity services in the manifestos from both Labour and the Conservatives is a solid achievement for the RCM.

In their manifesto, the Conservatives commit to prioritising women’s health with local women’s health hubs, and to “bring forward a comprehensive national strategy for maternity care”.

In terms of money, they say they will “deliver additional funding for maternal safety and improve access to mental health services for new mums, improve perinatal pelvic health services to prevent and support women with birth injuries and postnatal appointments dedicated to checking mums, not just their babies.”

In terms of research, the Conservatives will “support continued research into disparities in maternity care through the National Institute for Health and Care Research.”

The party says it is “delivering record increases in training places for other clinicians, such as midwives,” which is true, and that they will “improve working conditions for all NHS staff.”

These commitments match what we are calling for, for example in terms of an explicit commitment to maternity research, on reducing disparities, a focus on improving maternity safety and to more midwives

The Liberal Democrat manifesto also contains a range of commitments that the RCM has been calling for. They commit to a transformation in perinatal mental health support for pregnant women, new mums and those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth.

They would establish a properly independent pay review body, not hamstrung by ministers setting arbitrary caps on any pay rise and saying what they will and won’t agree to. We called for this when we asked for fair pay for midwives.

The Lib Dems would also set a 10-year retention plan to help the NHS keep more of its staff, which is fundamentally important in eliminating the national shortage of midwives. We have been lobbying politicians hard in recent times on the need to prioritise the retention of staff, in addition to training more new staff.

The Lib Dems also want to see a 10-year programme of investment to fix NHS buildings that are unfit for purpose. Again, this is a specific ask we had of the parties at this election.

The Green manifesto commits to an immediate boost to NHS pay. They too are committed to a big five-year plan of hospital building and repair. They would also boost the public health budget, including on smoking cessation, as well as spending on mental healthcare. Additionally, the Greens support repeal of recent anti-union laws.

In Wales, the Plaid Cymru manifesto demands more money for Wales. With that, Plaid would pay NHS staff better. They also want to see more flexible working arrangements to help staff juggle work and home life. This is something we have been pushing with politicians.

The party wants to repeal anti-union laws, such as the laws that put so many high hurdles in the path of people who want to take industrial action. Plaid also want to see more healthcare apprenticeships in Wales, which have proven a success in England, again an innovation the RCM has promoted UK-wide.

We are still waiting for the manifestos from Reform UK and the SNP, but we hope to report on those - and other parties, such as those in Northern Ireland - at the end of next week.

So, there you have the latest snapshot of what many of the main parties competing in this election  are promising. We have linked directly to manifestos in this article, if you want to read more.

To help you participate in the election, the RCM has produced advice about how to challenge candidates; please read that blog post for tips and ideas. You can also attend an RCM online election briefing on Monday 17 June between 5pm and 6pm - open to all RCM members, just use the link to register. The briefing will also be recorded if you’re unable to attend live.