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18 April 2013
Nursing Midwifery RCM Visit

Royal College of Midwives teach and learn at UWC

Hundreds of the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) nursing students packed the Library Auditorium on the morning of Thursday 18 April 2013 to hear Prof Cathy Warwick,General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM), discuss midwifery in the United Kingdom, and how it differs from midwifery practiced in South Africa.

Prof Warwick led a team of midwives from the UK, as well as midwives and nurses from New Zealand and Australia, on a tour aimed to show midwives from outside South Africa how midwifery midwifery training, education and day-to-day practice works in this country. UWC was the only academic institution included on the tour, which also included a visit to a large and busy public hospital in Johannesburg (“an amazing experience for us to see such a busy hospital with midwives doing such an amazing job”), a private hospital in the same city (“an institution with far greater resources”), a trip to Bushbuck Ridge Clinic in the Kruger National Park (“a much more local facility”), and also a stop at Hazyview Clinic, the institution to which Bushbuck Ridge refers patients.

“We're getting a sense of the kind of challenges you face, and the kind of brilliant work you're doing in South Africa,” said Prof Warwick.

Prof Warwick talked briefly about the RCM - one of the world's oldest and largest midwifery organisations, representing the majority of the UK's midwives, that aims to raise the training and status of midwives and promote high-quality midwifery in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. She also discussed how midwifery works in the UK (her colleagues discussed the differences and similarities in Australia and New Zealand midwifery practice). She  explained that midwives in the UK work as part of a team with their colleagues - mainly hospital workers and social workers, but also maternity support workers - and that most women in the UK do give birth in big hospital systems, but community-based midwifery-led units are becoming more common, and are more homelike than big hospitals.

She proceeded to outline particular midwifery challenges faced in the UK, including obesity and aging mothers, and noted that in the UK, midwives need to concentrate particularly on antenatal and postnatal period, as well as continuity of care. She also noted that the UK has more midwives and that they are better-resourced than midwives in South Africa, and so are better able to cope with these challenges.

“I will be taking two messages back to the UK,” Prof Warwick concluded. “Firstly, I think that you do a brilliant job in South Africa with the resources you've got and the challenges you face. Secondly, you cannot think you're badly off in the UK - and if you do, you need to travel abroad and see what midwives are coping with worldwide.”

Associate Professor Sheila Clow of the University of Cape Town gave a brief introduction to the Society of Midwives of South Africa (SOMSA), a body established in 2000 (“We’re becoming teenagers this year,” she remarked) that helps nurses improve their skills and practice, and provide better-quality maternal and child health care. Explaining that SOMSA mainly looks at how to provide better services for women and is not a trade union, but rather works with trade unions where there are issues related to midwifery, she urging midwifery students to join the Society.

A lively question and answer session was then led by Prof Nomafrench Mbombo of the School of Nursing, and midwives in attendance from Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya and Nigeria shared their experiences of midwifery and of midwifery education in their respective countries.

After the talk, the visiting midwives were treated to tea and went on to discuss their visit in more detail with School of Nursing staff, before departing for Khayelitsha Community Hospital, where the midwives showed them around and helped them learn more about midwifery as practiced there.