So, it’s nearly Imbolc, festival of midwives, spring and new life.
At this time when the light returns to the evening skies, let’s take a moment to think about what kind of future, what kind of world we want to live in.
A future of freedom, peace and beauty?
Here, in full, is a letter explaining the current situation that an internationally respected and much-loved British midwife is facing. Please see the bottom for action you can take to support Becky – and if you live in London, please consider going along to her hearing.
Also at the bottom is a rocking freedom song, first taught to me years ago by Eileen Penman in the fantastic Edinburgh women’s choir Wildfire and sung here by Sweet Honey in the Rock. A proper, great, rousing, soul-stirring, fire-in-the-belly lighting, torch bearing, future-defining freedom song.
JUSTICE FOR MIDWIFE BECKY REED
WITCH HUNT OF ONE OF THE UK’S MOST RESPECTED MIDWIVES
From 1997 to 2009 the Albany Midwifery Practice offered a unique midwifery service to the women and families of Peckham, South London. The Practice was evaluated several times with excellent results. The outcomes for the women were recognised as outstanding, including over the first ten years a perinatal mortality rate, for an all-risk caseload, of 4.9 per 1000. This compared with a local perinatal mortality rate of 11.4 per 1000, and a national perinatal mortality rate of 7.9 per 1000 (The 2000 Women Study, 2008). The Albany midwives offered continuity of carer and choice of place of birth to the women, and the Practice achieved the highest home birth rate in the country within the NHS.
Following an adverse outcome at a home birth in September 2009, King’s suspended Becky from duty, even though representatives of King’s subsequently told the Lambeth Health Scrutiny Committee that they had ‘no concerns in relation to individual midwives’ and had offered all of them jobs following the termination of the Albany Practice. In December 2009, King’s Healthcare Trust terminated the contract of the Practice without consultation, citing ‘safety reasons’, based on inaccurate data and statistics that have been challenged by several experts including Alison MacFarlane, Professor of Perinatal Health at City University, London.
The unexpected closure of the Practice prompted a range of protests, including a large march and rally in London in March 2010. The ‘Reclaiming Birth’ march was called by the Albany Mums Group both to protest the closure of their valued local midwifery practice and to push for better, more women-centred approaches to childbirth.
Becky Reed was the only midwife to have been with the Albany Practice since its inception. A very experienced and internationally respected midwife, she has written extensively about the Albany model of care and is currently co-editor of the well-respected academic journal, MIDIRS Midwifery Digest.
In January 2010 Becky was referred, without her knowledge, to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) by the Head of Midwifery at King’s, Katie Yiannouzis. The referral cited seven cases, spanning a period of over three years, dating back to July 2006. Becky was primary midwife in only two of the cases. Katie Yiannouzis had been Becky’s midwifery supervisor until February 2009 and had raised no concerns with Becky about her practice.
In September 2010, following an Interim Order hearing, Becky was given a Conditions of Practice order by the NMC, requiring her to undertake 450 hours of supervised practice (the maximum). She successfully completed this at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, and in April 2011 an Interim Order Review hearing took place where, on the basis of reports from her supervised practice and many testimonials from women and practitioners, the Conditions of Practice were revoked in their entirety and she was deemed fit to practise.
Unbelievably, the NMC investigation continues.
In March 2012 Becky was sent draft charges by the NMC relating to five cases out of the original seven (two of the cases had been mysteriously dropped). In three of the remaining five cases, Becky was the second midwife. The primary midwives have not been referred to the NMC. N.B. In the two cases for which Becky was primary midwife, she has successfully completed supervised practice (and been deemed fit to practise by the NMC itself).
On 20 December 2012 Becky was given notice of an NMC hearing which is scheduled to commence at 9 am on Monday 11th March 2013 and continue until Friday 22 March. For each of the cases the charges are introduced as follows: When providing care for Mother XX and baby you: failed to comply with or practice within the Kings College Hospital Clinical protocols in labour and / or nationally recognised clinical guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and / or National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
The Midwives Rules (Rule 5) direct the midwife to ‘work in partnership with the woman and her family, providing safe, compassionate care’. Clinical guidelines, therefore, should be considered an important aid to clinical decision-making, but not as rules to be followed in every case.
There is no question that the public needs protection should there be midwives who are dangerous and negligent. This investigation, however, is nothing to do with protection of the public, but symptomatic of an entrenched medicalised and rule bound culture at the NMC. Becky is certainly not the first woman-centred, skilled and dedicated midwife to undergo bullying and victimisation. For Becky, one of the UK’s most respected midwives, to be treated in this way constitutes an attack on midwifery autonomy. If she is ultimately sanctioned, it will make it more difficult in the future for midwives to confidently support women’s birth choices.
It will be obvious on reading this that the NMC, which was described last July as ‘failing at every level’ by its own regulator, has completely mishandled this case. For Becky, this process has lasted for well over three years – she and her family have suffered both financially and emotionally. We, Becky’s support group, will be asking (if you live in the UK) whether you could spare some time to come along to a session of the hearing during the 2 weeks commencing 11th March. Visible support will indicate the strength of feeling women and midwives have about Becky’s mistreatment, as well as highlight the wider issues raised by Becky’s case.
If you are able to come along, you will need to book your place online at http://www.nmc-uk.org/Hearings/Attending-a-hearing/#emailbooking. We would be grateful if you could also email Vicky at email@example.com with details of the day/time you book so we can ensure every session is covered.
We also plan to hold a peaceful protest gathering outside the NMC offices at the Old Bailey during the 2 weeks, probably on the first day. We will send further details of this nearer the time.
With best wishes
Sarah Davies, Vicky Garner, Nadine Edwards (Vice Chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services- AIMS), Beverley Beech ( Chair of AIMS) and members of the Justice for Becky Reed group.