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Celebrating the vital role of the midwife

To mark International Day of the Midwife on Sunday May 5, the Chief Midwifery Officer for the NHS reflects on how midwives are leading the way with quality care for women and babies:

Midwives save lives: this is the message I want to give to everyone on the International Day of the Midwife 2019.

Over 340,000 women and over three million infants around the world die each year from preventable complications from pregnancy and childbirth. The World Health Organisation, several United Nations agencies and other international groups identify midwives as fundamental in reducing maternal and newborn deaths and disabilities globally.

As England’s first Chief Midwifery Officer for the NHS, I want the role of the midwife to be understood and known for the expert, skilled, personal and unique contribution midwives make during a woman’s pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience, making sure that all women are given the right information to make safe choices that are heard and respected.

The theme of this year’s International Day of the Midwife is: “Midwives: Defenders of women’s rights.” I want to make sure that in my new role I have a comprehensive bird’s eye view of maternity care in England to make sure that all women receive personal and safe care. I want to work with groups that we inconsistently engage with such as travelers, sex workers, asylum seekers, refugees and other groups, to make sure that they receive the best maternity care possible so that their human rights are respected and that they have a midwife in their corner advocating for them.

If we are to make big, long term improvements in maternity care we need to address the inequalities that we see in society. This is as true in England as it is in the rest of the world. The midwife can play a central role in making sure women receive the care they need, when they need it most.

Being a midwife is one of the most rewarding careers a person can have. One of the areas I will be campaigning on is making midwifery the career of choice when school and college students are considering what career to pursue. I will also be focusing on retaining the midwives we have by strengthening how we value such highly skilled and competent practitioners.

Being a midwife can be challenging, rewarding, exciting and, most of all, diverse. You get to experience supporting people at the most important time in their lives and making sure they receive personal and safe care for women and their families.

You also get to join an international community of midwives working for the rights of women and girls around the world. The midwives fighting inequality. The midwives who stand up for the rights of women to receive respectful maternity care. The midwives who offer contraception even though their societies refuse. The midwives who have supported pregnant women who are suffering from abuse and cannot return home. The midwives that say no to performing FGM. The midwives that have held perpetrators of rape and violence accountable, despite fear of the ramifications.

The advocacy role of the midwife is endless, and this is often at its strongest with continuity of carer. We know that if women receive care from a midwife they know before, during and after birth, they are for example:

  • 19% less likely to lose their baby before 24 weeks
  • 24% less likely to experience pre-term birth

The NHS Long-Term Plan that was published in January stated that we want to provide continuity of carer so that it targets the women that will benefit the most; those from BAME background and those who live in deprived communities. The relationship that develops between a woman and her midwife can assist with early identification and timely referral for mental health problems, domestic violence or substance misuse and other concerns that are intimate to the woman but shared with a trusted midwife that she has come to know.

Continuity of carer is also a fantastic opportunity for midwives to use all their midwifery skills, build trusting relationships with women and practice flexibly and autonomously which leads to increased job satisfaction.

The choice I made to become a midwife was one of the best life choices that I have made. We are part of a brilliant profession making a significant contribution to the health of our nation.

So, thank you to midwives here and around the world! It’s the best job ever and I am so proud to be working alongside you.

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent has vast experience in healthcare provision.

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 is currently Head of Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England and 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.

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