International Day of the Midwife: delivering safer, more personal maternity care for all

Pregnancy and the birth of a child should be special times for families, full of excitement and anticipation, unfortunately this is not always the case. Four members of my family are either new parents or pregnant, all aged between 25 and 35 and sadly, their most urgent questions to me relate to their own safety.

England is a safe place to give birth and the data shows that good progress has been made in reducing both perinatal and maternal mortality, despite an increase in the complexity of cases. Yet, widespread reporting of inequalities for Black, Asian and mixed ethnicity women and the increased anxiety caused by the pandemic, has meant that despite reassurance and support, the concerns of my relatives will most likely, only be alleviated when their baby is born, and mum and baby are home and well.

This worry is the reality of how many women from ethnic minority communities feel. It is crucial that every pregnant woman knows that the NHS is here for them, this starts by taking these concerns seriously. Our services will only be right when they are right for everyone, so our work in the NHS to narrow the maternity outcomes gap is an absolute priority. That means understanding why mortality rates are higher, what will reduce them and continuing to take the steps needed to make a difference.

During the pandemic, we found that more than half of pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are from ethnic minorities, so we took urgent action to protect expectant mums, ensuring that women facing higher risks received extra support, including increasing uptake of Vitamin D and undertaking outreach in neighbourhoods and communities in their areas.

We know that receiving care from the same midwife before, during and after birth is proven to help reduce preterm births, hospital admissions and can significantly improve outcomes and experiences for women and their babies from ethnic minority backgrounds and those living in deprived areas.  The NHS Long Term plan committed to ensuring that by 2024, three-quarters of pregnant women from minority ethnicities and deprived communities will receive this.

The NHS is delivering our commitment to establish Maternal Medicine Networks so that by March 2024, every woman in England with acute and chronic medical problems will have access to specialist advice before and during pregnancy.

We aim to make sure maternity care is personal and safe for all women and their babies, above all this means making sure diverse voices are heard. Our Maternity Voices Partnerships, teams of women and their families, midwives and doctors who work together to review and contribute to the development of local maternity care are integral to this. We are taking more action to ensure that they include parents from ethnic minority communities and provide training about how they can better involve women from diverse backgrounds. While much has already been achieved, there is still so much more to do and we will do it together.

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.