Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament election: what the RCM wants to see and what the parties are promising
On 6 May, voters in Wales will choose who will represent them in Senedd Cymru / the Welsh Parliament (“the Senedd”) for the next few years. That outcome will also, of course, determine who will become First Minister of Wales and form the next Welsh Government.
As part of the election campaign, with parties and politicians setting out their stalls, the RCM has published its own blueprint for better maternity care in the country. We will be speaking with new and re-elected Members of the Senedd about these priorities as soon as they take up their seats.
In the blueprint (also available in Welsh) we identify five priority areas for the next Welsh Government: (1) supporting post-pandemic recovery for the NHS and its staff; (2) improving maternal mental health support for women post-pandemic; (3) improving the safety of maternity services; (4) more resources to support the public health work of midwives; and (5) midwife and student midwife numbers – ensuring the NHS recruits and retains staff.
Maternity services stayed open throughout the pandemic, supporting and caring for women and babies night and day. The impact of the pandemic on staff has been colossal. Many will call them heroes, but they are also just people, people who need to have some of vast pressure taken off them after the hardest year in the history of the National Health Service. Giving exhausted and sometimes traumatised staff who have worked through the past year time to recover must be a priority.
As you will see below, parties across the board are highlighting the need for better mental healthcare. That chimes perfectly with what the RCM is calling for: improvements in mental health support for pregnant and postnatal women.
Those in power after the election must also ensure there are enough midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) with the right training to support the safest possible care. The RCM also says the ongoing Health Inspectorate Wales Maternity Review recommendations must be implemented across the country.
Midwives and MSWs are already playing a key role in driving improvements in public health, and the RCM is calling for more resources to help them do more, and even better. This is crucial work as Wales faces high levels of smoking in pregnancy and what some have called the “health timebomb” of obesity. Investing in maternity care is also an investment in better public health and will support the desire that all parties have for a healthier Wales.
We need ongoing investment in our maternity services, in staff and in training right across the country. That is fundamental. The pandemic has shown how crucial the NHS is and how vital its staff are. The post-election Welsh Government, of whatever political colour, needs to support maternity staff so we can have maternity care that is second to none.
In looking at the manifestos, we will focus on the three parties that dominate the Senedd: Labour; Plaid Cymru; and the Conservatives.
Other parties are standing and we encourage everyone with a vote in Wales to consider everyone standing in their area. You can obtain the full list of candidates for any area by visiting the Electoral Commission website and inputting your postcode. You can do the same with Who Can I Vote For?, which will also provide you with information about many of the candidates.
The BBC has also created a page where you can select an issue that is important to you (e.g. NHS and care) and see what 11 different parties have to say about it. That is well worth a look.
Let’s now look at the three biggest parties in turn. The Welsh Labour manifesto commits the party to maintaining the bursary that is paid to student midwives and others like student nurses. The party also has a big focus on mental healthcare. Looking back at their time in power, the party points to the increase in the number of midwives in Wales to a record level.
In the Plaid Cymru manifesto, the party repeats its longstanding commitment to maternity services being within a reasonable distance of where people live. The party also outlines several commitments on improving mental health, and there is a focus on retaining NHS staff – including through offering enhanced access to occupational health, leisure and sport facilities.
The Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto commits to increasing the NHS budget in Wales above inflation every year. They commit to improving access to mental health support for women before, during and after pregnancy. They also want to set up a registration system for support workers, which would include MSWs.
The BBC has produced a quick election guide, covering what the Senedd is responsible for, how many MSs there are, and how the election will be run. Please do take a look.
Rest assured that whoever is elected, and whichever party or parties takes charge after the election, the RCM seek to meet and speak with them and work with them to deliver on the priorities we have for the health system in Wales.