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KATE FORBES: Midwives occupy a very unique place in Scottish society

By Gavin Musgrove

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Midwives have such an important role for both new mums and new babies.
Midwives have such an important role for both new mums and new babies.

Much focus is on Scotland’s demographic challenges. It’s been well documented that our population is growing older and is unlikely to increase significantly over the coming decades.

That makes it all the more important that we do our level best to attract and retain families in Scotland. A lot of that revolves around the quality of our public services. Whilst I will never cease to make the argument for greater immigration, I also think that part of the answer is supporting families in Scotland.

That includes ensuring we have the best education system, the best children’s healthcare provision and the best support for those who are tasked with caring for a child in the first instance: their families.

The first service that a child experiences is maternal and neonatal care, and so it is worthy of special consideration.

The support we offer mothers and our service to newborns will make an enormous difference to the generations to come. In fact, maternity care will shape our population’s future health, never mind our current health.

Midwives are not only in the business of supporting pregnant mothers and babies, but they are also on the front line of tackling chronic health inequalities.

As they are the first relationship a newborn will have with public services, they can respond in a way that other public servants cannot. They can identify risks, put in place programmes to support a newborn baby and consider how to better tackle the root causes of poorer outcomes for children.

That has a much bigger impact than just improving outcomes for that family. It has a generational, and a societal impact.

Even those of us who will never need maternity care are not immune to the impact of this service. I know that midwives can feel disheartened – there have been lots of troubling stories in recent years about maternal and neonatal care.

But, in Scotland, we have exceptional midwives and they deserve recognition and gratitude for their service.

Throughout Covid, midwives continued to support mothers – I know, because I was one of them. Despite their own concerns, midwives did not leave their posts on the frontline..

Whilst some services were reduced – like antenatal classes – midwives stepped in supporting every mother. The pandemic clearly exacerbated health harms at the time but the consequences of the way in which health was disrupted is still affecting us.

We need our midwives more than ever, to be able to support mothers and babies as effectively as possible. This is the next generation we are talking about.

We make many promises to patients about the quality of healthcare in Scotland but we have to honour our promises to healthcare workers before we can make good on promises to patients.

If we are serious about Scotland’s demographic future, and we want to see a reduction in health inequalities, then we can’t do better than supporting our midwives. Perhaps it’s not an issue that you have considered, or that you think should be prioritised. But it must be. It is well documented that we are facing a challenging Budget. Money cannot be fabricated overnight to meet the many demands for additional resources.

The only way to adequately fund our public services is by focusing on our frontline workers.

If the Scottish Government wants to further invest in midwifery services, the only way of doing that is recycling resources away from other places in the public services.

Bureaucracy won’t make much difference to tomorrow’s babies but midwives will. Rather than pay more consultants to diagnose the problem or employ more managers to manage away the problem, I think we should invest in maternal and neonatal services right across Scotland so that there is a consistency of care.

As the Scottish Government further considers its Budget allocations, I think Scotland should join together to call on greater resources finding its home on the frontline of the NHS, and not hiding somewhere in the deep recesses.

• Kate Forbes (SNP) is MSP for Badenoch.

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