Applauding our midwives and reminding pregnant women to still seek advice from their local maternity teams

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent praises her colleagues around the country who continue to provide personal and safe care for parents and newborns, as well as encouraging pregnant and postnatal women to still seek advice from their midwifery team and attend their appointments.

Since the coronavirus alert on 30th January midwives and maternity teams have helped to bring an estimated 158,000 babies into the world, with the most-high profile among them being No 10’s newest resident, Wilfred Johnson.

I am incredibly proud of our NHS maternity teams and feel privileged to have chosen a career that is inextricably linked with new life, advocacy and empowerment. Despite the challenges of the coronavirus and the unprecedented circumstances we all face, midwives across the country continue to provide personal and safe care to pregnant and new mums 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even when times are busy with donning and doffing, testing for coronavirus, and providing remote consultations I am equally proud that midwives just keep moving forward ensuring that women, babies and their families remain central to everything they do.

As anyone who has ever given birth or worked as a midwife will tell you, when a baby is ready to be born, he or she will not wait and midwives are always ready, waiting, willing and very able. Since 30th January I have seen first-hand how midwives have encouraged women who feel nervous about attending appointments to do so. Every maternity unit has amplified their efforts to engage with women above and beyond their usual practice. Such as the midwives at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, who, despite wearing masks, smile with their eyes to reduce the anxiety that PPE may create for some women.

But whatever the changes that have been made; I really want to address some of the concerns that I know are worrying many pregnant women.

Firstly  it’s vital that women have a midwife with them when they are giving birth to ensure that both mum and baby are safe. I want to reassure women that maternity services are completely separate to general NHS services in hospitals treating coronavirus patients, so the risk of catching coronavirus from these patients is minimal, as well as from other pregnant women with coronavirus symptoms, who are cared for in another dedicated area in the maternity unit.

We also know that having a trusted birth partner present throughout labour is known to make a significant difference to the well-being of women in childbirth. At times like this, when coronavirus is heightening anxiety, that reassurance is more important than ever. While we support decisions to restrict access to birth partners who have, or are suspected of having coronavirus, in order to safeguard both the health of the woman and the maternity staff supporting her, NHS Trusts should continue to follow guidance allowing asymptomatic birth partners access to the maternity unit during labour and birth.

And if you’re an expectant new mum, I want you to know that the NHS is still here for you and has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of you and your baby, so please, help us to help you. If you’re worried about your health or that of your baby, or you have a concern, no matter how minor, please contact your midwife just as you always would, and if you’re asked to come in for a planned or urgent check, it’s vital that you do so.

If you get coronavirus symptoms, they are likely to be only mild or moderate, such as a cough or a high temperature and the rate of contracting the virus  is no higher than the general population, so please contact your midwife or maternity team who will advise you about what to do next. If you have coronavirus symptoms when having your baby, then you will be cared for in a dedicated area in the maternity unit with a midwife. This is to keep you and everybody who uses or works in our services as safe as possible.

I do hope when you come out of your homes this evening to clap our carers at 8pm that you have our NHS maternity staff in your minds for all they do for new and expectant mums.

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent has vast experience in healthcare provision and is the first Chief Midwifery Officer in England.

She has worked as a midwife and a nurse and held senior positions in clinical practice, education, leadership and management including: Director of Midwifery and Nursing positions for Women’s and Children’s services at Imperial College Healthcare Trust & Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Academic roles have included: Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Leader, LME and Professor of Midwifery.

Jacqueline was appointed Chief Midwifery Officer in Spring 2019 at NHS England and NHS Improvement and is National Maternity Safety Champion for the Department of Health. She is also visiting Professor of Midwifery at Kings College London and London South Bank University.

Her experience has seen her leading and influencing national maternity standards and guidance. She also influences healthcare, nationally and internationally through research, education and publications and is frequently invited to speak at national and international conferences. She is a member of the British Journal of Midwifery editorial board and until recently was an active member of the Maternity and Newborn Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine.

She has joined the Tommy’s Charity National Advisory Board as Midwifery advisor, and the Women of the Year management committee. Her voluntary work currently includes Midwifery Advisor for the Wellbeing Foundation Africa and until recently a trustee.

In 2014 she received the HSJ, BME Pioneers award and in 2015 she was selected from over 100 nominations for inclusion on Nursing Times’ Leaders 2015 list that celebrates nurses and midwives who are pioneers, entrepreneurs and inspirational role models in their profession.