Victory, as RCM secures win on midwifery regulation

By Cathy Warwick, RCM CEO on 26 January 2017

On 25th January, the Royal College of Midwives saw off a serious threat to how midwives are represented within our regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Thanks to the efforts of the RCM, the voice of our profession will now instead be enhanced within the NMC.

As midwives, we know the problem. With such a massive imbalance between the number of us on the NMC register and the number of nurses, there have always be a need for specific measures to protect and amplify the midwifery voice within the regulator. Without such intervention, our voice will not be heard; the distinctiveness of our profession will naturally be diluted in any joint nursing and midwifery regulator by our much more numerous nursing colleagues.

It is for just this reason that as the changes to the regulation of midwives have made their way from the pages of a King’s Fund report to the NMC and on to the Department of Health (DH), that the Royal College of Midwives has sought to lobby, persuade and press for actions to ensure the voice of the midwifery profession will continue to be heard and acted upon.

And with the actions to which the NMC has now committed itself, the RCM has succeeded in securing protections that will amplify the voice of midwifery within the regulator. Specific interventions like those planned will always be needed for as long as midwifery is regulated alongside the much larger nursing profession, despite their being two distinct and separate professions.

The requirement in law for a Midwifery Committee will go. We do not support that move, neither did the overwhelming majority of those who responded to the DH consultation on the move, but the strength of our collective efforts have compelled the NMC to take steps to strengthen the voice of midwives within the NMC.

An enhanced Midwifery Panel will have a remit to provide “strategic input into policy or regulatory proposals affecting midwifery matters”. The NMC is now committed to promote the Panel too, to raise recognition of it and its work. Additionally, the NMC has stated in clear terms that they remain obligated in law to consult midwives on matters that affect the profession. That legal requirement will not be affected by the planned changes. There will also be more midwives employed in key posts in the NMC itself.

The regulator is also to create midwifery-specific expert groups when it reviews areas such as pre-registration education standards; the distinct needs of midwifery will not therefore be assumed to be the same as nursing. In terms of their communications, the NMC has developed a broad plan that will ensure that midwives and midwifery form a distinct part of what the regulator does and how it listens and communicates.

The NMC is also committing to improving their ability to “collect and analyse information and intelligence on matters relating to midwifery practice and regulation”. There is also a commitment to “develop our capacity to produce disaggregated midwifery data and information”. These may sound techy, but they are incredibly important. Too often, the regulator has been blind to how something is impacting on midwifery because numbers and data for nurses and midwives are put together, and inevitably any specific impact on midwives is drowned out by the data from nursing.

Statutory supervision of midwives is set to end, as will the legal requirement for NMC to have a Midwifery Committee. But thanks to sustained pressure from the RCM and from individual midwives, we have now hopefully secured an enhanced professional voice at the NMC. It may not be guaranteed in statute, as before, but it is there – and we will fight to keep it.

If midwifery is to continue to be regulated alongside nursing, the NMC must deliver and sustain, for the long term, this commitment to protecting and amplifying the midwifery voice. We will be there to ensure that it does.