Seventy Years of the NHS

By Gill Walton on 04 July 2018 NHS

This year marks seventy years since the start of the NHS. This of course also means seventy years of NHS midwifery care and seventy years of dedicated service from midwives and more recently maternity support workers, along with our doctor colleagues and all the other staff who make our maternity services what they have been and what they are.

Looking at the birth statistics over the years this means millions of babies born; it means millions of antenatal appointments, millions of postnatal appointments, millions of hours of breastfeeding support and I could go on. What it does mean is that midwives, maternity support workers and their colleagues have been supporting and caring for women, their babies and their families for seventy years. This is an incredible achievement and a wonderful contribution by everyone to the health and wellbeing of this nation.

Seventy years have also seen major changes in the way our maternity services operate. Even in my thirty plus years in the NHS I have seen great changes and government policies come and go and indeed, governments come and go. But what about the changes over seventy years? Well, we saw a major swing away from community based maternity care into hospital particularly as the NHS hit the 1960s. This was certainly the case with births. Now we are seeing the pendulum swing back the other way with a focus again on the benefits of home and community based services. A case of looking to the past to inform the present, and I hope, the future.

The profession of midwifery has also changed. Things that were done seventy years ago we would not do today because research and evidence has changed the way midwives and their colleagues practice; showing the value of seventy years of NHS research.

I remember sucking out a baby’s mouth and nose with a mucus extractor and episiotomies for all! What reflecting on seventy years of the NHS has brought home to me is that midwifery and maternity care are dynamic, evolving, changing things. They do not, and must not, sit still. They need to constantly reflect on how things have been done, how they are being done and how they be done better for the benefit of women, babies and their families, and our NHS.

This is also of course seventy years of your RCM championing NHS midwifery and maternity services. We have never ceased to campaign for better resources, better pay and conditions for staff, and ultimately better care for women, babies and their families. The impact of this I think cannot be underestimated. The RCM has contributed to the NHS since its inception and has helped to make it better. All our members now and in the past can be justifiably proud of this.

I want to thank all those midwives and MSW’s who have worked in our NHS, past and present. You did and are doing a terrific job. It was sometimes not easy and this is often still the case.  What I am sure of though is that in another seventy years midwives will still be at the centre of maternity care and will be there for women, babies and their families.

I also believe and hope that in another 70 years our NHS will still be here enabling and supporting midwives, MSW’s and their colleagues to deliver care to women, babies and their families.