Thursday, 28 July 2016

Guest blog by Susan Baines, proposer of the More Midwives campaign

I am proud to say that, “I am a Midwife”. I have been one since 1986 and prior to that I was a S.R.N. specialising in Gynaecology. So all of my working life I have been involved in the care of women. Currently I am a Lecturer in Midwifery and an Independent Midwife. Over the years I have witnessed, and also been pro-actively involved in, many changes directed at improving services for women during the childbirth continuum. However, upon reflection I can conclude that modernisation has not achieved all it set out to and that some aspects of care are currently a lot worse for women than at any other time I have ever practised. 

When I started my career, midwives were community based and knew women and their families personally; they were a point of contact for a myriad of social concerns and were respected and valued. Today it is argued that pregnancy is more complicated and professionally demanding than before, with the Midwife needing to draw on far more technical skill - as a result her practice is often driven by a fear of litigation and is therefore often defensive. This serves to impact on the choices and support women receive. There is a reputed shortage of 3500 trained Midwives currently and some NHS units are at breaking point. Staff shortages impact adversely on normal birth and home birth statistics, and postnatal care is in some areas a postcode lottery.  A lot of Midwives are working on their good will in order to do their best for women in their care.

After my two adult daughters left home, my husband and I returned to the small town where I had been brought up and I looked for a WI to join. There was none. I therefore decided to set one up. In 2011 Horwich WI was created and I became President. Our numbers slowly grew and one day a communication arrived via our secretary asking members for ideas for resolutions.

Our treasurer was at that time pregnant and I remember we chatted about her experiences and frustrations with local maternity services and her rushed and limited antenatal appointments.  It was then that I proposed to the membership that we create a resolution about Midwifery care and particularly about training, recruiting and employing more Midwives so as to better support mothers.

Everyone seemed so eager and there was a buzz around the room as the group recalled their experiences. It was so interesting to hear from our more mature members that they could recall with clarity their Midwife’s name, such had been the impression she had made upon them. Younger members on the other hand could not do so, as they had received team care and had never seen the same Midwife twice antenatally or known the Midwife when their labour had started. 

Our resolution was sent to the Lancashire Federation. We were surprised and delighted to later hear that ours had been short listed, especially being such a new WI. I recall that the next few months were a frenzy of presentations with other local WI’s in order to drum up support.

I was asked to present the resolution at the AGM at the Royal Albert Hall and I remember feeling unusually very calm, even though faced with thousands of faces. I think this was because I really felt we were “one” in the auditorium. Everyone was so kind and supportive. The resolution achieved 96% in favour and was duly passed.  My spirits soared with the huge backing of the WI membership. I felt that we as women were standing together to support women and Midwives.

A few weeks later I was invited to attend WI headquarters in London and become part of a joint research advisory group looking into women’s experiences of maternity services. I was in the company of Elizabeth Duff from the NCT, and Jacque Gerrard from the RCM.

In May 2013 the research study ’Support Overdue: Women’s Experiences of Maternity Services’ was published.  The study made three salient findings: that choice remains an aspiration and not a reality for most mothers, that current maternity care is fragmented, and that postnatal care is a postcode lottery.

From the offset, WI members worked pro-actively to increase awareness of the issues faced by mothers and their Midwives including writing to their local MPs. The NFWI also collected almost 30,000 signatures calling for urgent action, which were presented to the Minister of Health Dr Dan Poulter in October 2013.

To date, the NMC has been receiving more complaints from mothers about their Midwifery and Maternity care experiences than ever before and I feel this is due in part to the increased awareness and pro-activity of over 215,000 WI members up and down the country. Women talk to other women and this is extremely powerful dialogue regarding the standards of care they should expect to receive.

I wish to thank my WI, Lancashire Federation and NFWI for their support of women and for their support of Midwives.

You can read more about the campaign so far and its successes here: 

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