Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gill Walton, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), to discuss pertinent issues in midwifery in the UK. One of the main points that stood out to me, particularly, was the emphasis the RCM is placing on leadership roles and preceptor development in midwifery.
By equipping midwives with the skills and knowledge on how to successfully lead in practice, it will ensure high quality service and create a positive working environment for all staff. Gill emphasises in the RCM's ‘Strengthening midwifery leadership: a manifesto for better maternity care’ (2019) how better leaders can improve the overall safety of women in midwives' care. ‘The cost to the NHS of getting maternity care wrong can be severe,’ she says. ‘Not only in terms of the damage that can be done to lives, and even the loss of life, but financially too.’
Being able to effectively communicate to trusts and health boards, and feel heard as a midwife, is another reason why building a strong workforce of leaders is crucial as this is something midwives have struggled with in the past. ‘This may be because midwives make up only around 2% of NHS staff, or possibly because maternity care serves predominantly healthy people through a natural life event that does not necessarily require medical intervention,’ Gill says. ‘Whatever the reason, it is a situation that needs to change. We need strong midwifery leadership to deliver the high quality, safe maternity services that all of us strive to provide.’
Many midwives may view leadership positions as challenging and undesirable because of the extra stress they have seen their supervisors under, as well as the lack of confidence in one's own abilities (RCM, 2019). In an attempt to eradicate the reluctance and instil confidence in midwives, the RCM has created a series of portals and workshop information which are accessible online. The RCM's (2019) i-learn resource offers a series of free modules on leadership in midwifery, including strategic thinking, better resource management and how to communicate more effectively in a team.
Listening to Gill in our interview, I was in agreement with her when she highlighted the importance of leaders emerging from the ground up, as opposed to the top down. Being a leader is more than simply taking on more responsibility; it is about encompassing the core values of what it means to be a midwife and being a compassionate, in-tune member of the team. ‘Everyone – NHS staff, politicians, the public and those who use the service – all want maternity care to be the best and safest it can be,’ Gill says. ‘Midwives and all maternity staff work hard to deliver that, and given the importance of what we do the spotlight is rightly on maternity services continually to improve.’ Such improvement starts with the individual and I strongly believe that every midwife has the drive and commitment to become a strong leader who will continue to propel maternity care in the UK forward.