RCM calls on political parties ‘invest now to build a profession that's fit for the future’

on 11 June 2024

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said that, if politicians are serious about improving maternity care, they need to ensure there are strong foundations on which to build a midwifery profession that’s fit for the future. In particular, said the College,  the next Government must alleviate the crippling burden of student debt and ensure that services that are crying out for more staff are in a position to take them on once they graduate.

The College is calling on the next Government to forgive student debt for those midwives who commit to work in the NHS. In every part of the UK – even those where tuition fees don’t apply – midwifery students are being weighed down by debt. The RCM has heard from students who are considering leaving their course because of the financial burden. The nature and structure of a midwifery degree doesn’t leave time for part-time or summer jobs, which puts students at a financial disadvantage before they even qualify

RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton warned that, unless this debt burden is addressed, there is a risk that midwifery will become less and less attractive, making the current workforce crisis even worse:

“If we want to build a midwifery profession that’s fit for the future, we have to invest in our students. Later this week, we’re going to be celebrating student midwife day in the UK, to recognise and celebrate the vital contribution they make. My genuine worry is that some of this generation of students won’t become midwives at all, because the financial burden is just too great. In Scotland alone over a third of students are so worried about their finances they struggle to sleep at night. This is affecting their mental health and causing them to drop out of their courses. Teaching, clinical placements and, increasingly, caring responsibilities leave no time for students to get part-time jobs. After years of hard work and training students should be rewarded for their dedication and commitment to their chosen profession. The next Government needs to show a similar level of commitment and forgive student debt once a midwife has worked in the NHS for three years, matching their years of study.”

It's not only financial concerns that are keeping midwifery students awake at night. The RCM has said it is hearing from increasing numbers of final year students who don’t have a job to go to once they qualify. This is particularly shocking when the College estimates that, in England alone, there is a shortage of 2,500 midwives.

Gill added:

“Never before have newly qualified midwives students been so badly needed, yet incredibly not every student has a job to go to once they qualify. This is easily fixed by better co-ordination between the health and higher education sectors both locally and nationally, ensuring that vacancies are properly signposted and graduating students are supported to make these important decisions. This will ensure we have the right staff in the right places, and that we do not lose this generation of midwives from the profession.”

Investing in midwifery education also means investing in educators, said the College. Again, better co-ordination between the health and higher education sectors could ensure the transfer of skills and experience for students and the delivery of education. Its newly-launched neurodivergence toolkit offers best practice for universities and clinical placements to ensure neurodivergent students are given appropriate support. Meanwhile, its decolonising the curriculum toolkit seeks to deliver equity in both midwifery education and practice. It demonstrates best practice in recruiting and supporting students from non-white backgrounds. It also calls for changes to the way midwifery is taught, particularly in terms of how different conditions might manifest themselves on different skin colours.


Notes to editors:

The RCM has found that high levels of midwives are leaving the profession in the first two years following qualification, in part because of the debt burden. The forgiveness of student debt after three years’ working within an NHS setting would be an incentive for those students to stay, as well as an incentive for future applicants to midwifery degree courses.

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