The threat of Brexit

By Stuart Bonar on 30 May 2018 Brexit

The clock is ticking. It is almost two years since the 2016 EU referendum, over a year since the Prime Minister triggered the Article 50 process to take the UK out of the European Union, and less than a year before the scheduled date for Brexit. Time is marching on, and yet we still see more negotiation between different ideological camps within the British Cabinet than we do between the UK and the EU.

But what does this have to do with midwives and maternity support workers? Well, quite a lot actually.

Think about NHS pay for a moment. After years and years, the RCM working with other trade unions has managed to break the pay freeze for NHS workers with a new three-year pay deal. In the future, we will start negotiating pay once again without an artificial cap imposed by politicians. And yet Brexit will slow the economy and hit public finances, and it will do that at the worst possible moment. With a sluggish, underperforming economy, the country will be less able to pay good pay rises each year, meaning that NHS pay never catches up the lost ground created by years of pay restraint. Brexit threatens to lock in lost pay.

More than that, the Government will be less able to find extra money for the NHS, meaning less money to hire more NHS midwives and other maternity care staff. Brexit threatens to lock in the national midwifery shortage.

But in some ways, we don’t even have to wait for Brexit to happen before we see its damaging effect. The threat of Brexit has already been enough to damage our maternity services. Look, for instance, at the number of EU midwives working here in the UK. In the last year, just 33 midwives arrived in the UK from elsewhere in Europe. We used to welcome hundreds every year. Meanwhile, the number leaving the UK in the same period has shot up.

Fewer EU midwives arriving and more EU midwives leaving means fewer midwives overall, making our national midwifery shortage worse. And that means the maternity care we can offer all women suffers, and the pressure on all maternity care staff gets worse.

It is also important to remember that right now the definition of a midwife and what goes into the midwifery training are agreed across the whole EU. A midwife trained in Sweden will have the same skills as one trained in Scotland, for example; outside of those structures, our systems will begin to diverge and may no longer be compatible, making it even harder for midwives to come to the UK from elsewhere in Europe – again, making our ability to staff maternity services harder, not easier.

The RCM continues to work hard to drive up the number of midwives working in the NHS, and for more investment in maternity services and for better NHS pay. All of these things are being put at risk by the threat of Brexit, and especially as we see the reality of what Brexit means compared to the promises made way back when the question was put to the electorate in a referendum.