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Ideas

The Royal College of Midwives in the time of Coronavirus



As we all plan for the future in our unions through the next phases of the pandemic I have been reflecting on how we did in the Royal College of Midwives. While it might be too early to draw conclusions; I hope you might get some insight from our experience.

The first thing we focussed on throughout was strategy. The RCM understands that we must deliver locally, nationally and internationally. We value and practise collaboration and we aspire to be an organisation of experts.

We were helped in this by our ability to work remotely using Microsoft Teams and with staff equipped to work entirely from home. The investment in tech worked and in fact we have left our main offices and have a new HQ ready to occupy (when we can) during this period. We also formed our experts into virtual groups to work on and deliver on what was needed. That ranged from clinical guidance to personal protective equipment, from occupational guidance for pregnant women to overtime payments. All the time we tried to work with others such as the RCOG or Maternity Action or other health unions, whose lead negotiators kitchens I now know as well as my own.

Given the pressures on the NHS and on our members we tried to keep it simple but effective in terms of our communications. We tried to tell that story and to address real problems. Both partnership and negotiations were stepped up to include regular weekly or twice weekly meetings with governments, employers and arms length bodies. The real focus was on the health and wellbeing of members, on safety and on fairly incentivising staff and students who were giving their all. We aimed to influence policy and to protect our members, whether on the impact of the virus on BAME members and pregnant women or on issues like testing.

We engaged members through digital organising, our first online conferences and we were proud to launch our Race Matters initiative, Job Evaluation and Pay campaigns during this period. We have tried always to balance the immediate with longer term strategic planning.

My takeaways on lessons learnt are that being kind to each other in and across our unions is so important. Working in cross cutting teams including with employers and across organisations, has delivered. Integrated communications and engagement have never been more important. Focussing on key asks such as a significant and early pay rise for NHS staff need to be answered.

Finally when we spent so much time and effort on issues such as adequate PPE for our members, we didn’t forget our international relationships. Our work with midwives in Bangladesh turned also, in this time to providing PPE for midwives there.