It’s has been an inspiring and thought provoking day for me attending the first day of the RCM conference in Manchester. The day started with such a buzz as midwives piled into the Manchester Central Convention Complex. It was good to see so many midwives from all over the UK today and talking to midwives I have never met before as well as those I haven’t seen for a while is a big part of Getting the most from a conference like this.
There have been some great speakers and sessions but the first session in the Main Programme: Conversation with Gill Walton, the RCM CE has stayed with me. It was a great start with the RCM CE up on stage outlining the last year of RCM work to a packed hall. Better sill with the conference app delegates were able to pose questions to her. This was a brave move and she competently dealt with a number of issues including a new report about prevalence of domestic abuse for HC workers and the impact of changes in student midwifery funding. However, I was disappointed with her response to a question about The WHELM report https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/UK%20WHELM%20REPORT%20final%20180418-May.pdf. This study by Cardiff University has highlighted staggering levels of stress, burnout and depression amongst UK midwives. But Gill Walton tackled this topic by advocating positivity towards midwifery. She called for midwives to focus on the good things about the job and difference it can make. I am afraid I think she missed the point here. Midwives generally know that they are in a fantastic job and that they have an opportunity to make a huge difference to women. That is not the problem. We don’t have a problem with enough people being attracted to the profession (yet) but we have a very big problem keeping qualified midwives in the profession without them getting burnt out. It’s not the true nature of the job that is the problem, it is the culture. It is the frustrating organisational systems, the onerous record keeping, the fear and blame, the bullying, the impossible workload which prevents midwives from having basic breaks. Above all it is something to do with the lack of support in their role which makes huge emotional and physical demands on them.
The response The WHELM Study must be one of compassion. Compassion is a response to suffering and what WHELM tells us is that many midwives in the UK are suffering. This is a serious threat to the profession and must be acknowledged and addressed. Compassion is a process which involves recognition of another’s suffering and the motivation and will to relieve that suffering. This is what midwives need now. Positivity has a place but it cannot relieve suffering. When women are suffering because they are exhausted, frightened, feeling vulnerable or in pain, positivity has limited effect. So we listen to women and notice how it is for them and this way we try to understand what would help them and provide it. Compassionate midwifery must apply to midwives too. The response to WHELM starts with compassion.