After dinner speech RCM annual conference –celebration and challenge


November 2014 Professor Lesley Page CBE


What a great pleasure it is to welcome you to the dinner and our party. Tonight, in the middle of our conference, is a time for celebration.  Celebration of the work you have done, of our profession, of the relationships formed, of rich collaborations with those from many other fields, but most of all of the passion we all share. It is a time too for thinking about our pathway over coming days months and years, of the challenges we face.

 My 2 years and 8 months as President

I have been your President for 2 years and 8 months. I have travelled to all parts of the UK. I have met many midwives and others involved in maternity care, talking with you in health services, universities, public places, and through social media. I have visited many other parts of the world. I have travelled many, many thousands of miles, met hundreds of people, and have learned so much from the journey.


I want to tell you how much you have to be proud of

First, I want to tell you just how much you have to be proud of. Despite the intense pressure you are all working under, with care more complex than it has ever been, with many services working beyond capacity and with too few midwives, you are not only providing good care but also developing new services.

 A few examples of what I have seen

  •  I will give you just a few examples:
  • In an obstetric unit a senior midwife working in partnership with a senior doctor has reduced the induction rate
  •  In another obstetric unit midwives providing care for women with complex medical needs work with medical staff to help women achieve a vaginal birth.
  •  A birth centre where I heard from women and their partners what it meant to them to have a supported vaginal birth after caesarean section.
  • A service that provides continuity of care for vulnerable women and a home birth service enabling that relationship of knowing and trust that means so much to women and to midwives.
  •  A free standing birth centre where the pride and commitment to the philosophy was clear in everyone’s words from senior midwives to the cleaner. There was a watering can on the edge of the birth pools, for pouring water over the woman’s back or abdomen during a contraction. A potent symbol of caring.

 Twitter and the effects of being political

 Especially through twitter I am part of a vibrant community of information and idea sharing and support. Did you know that you can be presented with a beautiful inscribed cup of tea in a tweet?

 And of course we will not get anywhere without being political. What could be more political than the midwife who was invited to meet the PM David Cameron after her highly innovative campaign to ensure that babies were given skin to skin contact after birth by caesarean. Many of you will know the Banksi of midwifery!

 At each and every visit I have been uplifted and inspired by what I have seen.

 Almost 1000 midwives and student midwives here

 There are almost 1000 midwives and student midwives here during the course of this conference. 

 Challenges for students and the future

And our student midwives who are here in huge numbers are managing the challenging demands of coursework and clinical placements, as well as family life, and are developing student societies that are setting a high bar for learning communities. These students are real leaders.


We face real challenges for the future. Some of those challenges, are profound. I’m thinking about what the student conference has learned from Odent today, of an abyss we face if we do not change.

For the work place reps our first ever strike action while maintaining safe services, and making an impact on employers and government, has earnt public sympathy, and is crucial to the future of our profession. I’m very proud of the way you have all handled this situation.

 How proud I am to be your president

 But for a moment I want to say just how proud I have been to represent the Royal College of Midwives, to represent midwifery, to speak with you and speak for you.  I could not be prouder. Now we need to build and learn from our successes, to spread our success to all women.

 Midwifery associations like the RCM are crucial to the work that lies ahead of us.  From my travels I have a clear a view of what happens in countries with extreme rates of intervention and dehumanized care, where midwifery as a profession has been lost.  I have learned just how important established midwifery is.

 And this conference is where we see midwives, midwifery and the Royal College of midwives at its best. We have already heard some excellent presentations today and have more to look forward to tomorrow.  It has been great to hear from both the chosen entrants to the abstract competition and from winners of our Annual Awards.  I am really looking forward to the next Awards ceremony on 3 March.  I would like to thank everyone who has put forward papers, judged the entries and has come to share their work with us.   

 Thank you

I would also like to thank all the managers, LMEs and RCM branches who have enabled delegates to come to conference and, of course, all the organisations, charities and companies who have provided sponsorship, especially the RCM Alliance Partners: Johnson’s Baby, Mother care, Philips Avent, Slimming World and Vitabiotics Pregnacare.  Most of all, thank you all for making this conference unique. 

 Learning life skills as President

I’ve learnt lots of other useful life skills as your president, how to pack a little lighter, how to manage jet lag, how to work on crowded trains. How to make a lot of Facebook friends without being banned from Facebook! How to write a key message in the 140 characters of a tweet!

 Recently I was talking about my travels to an acquaintance and she said how glamorous it sounded. I paused and thought, I had just come back from New Zealand on a flight that seemed to stop every where, where most of the toilets were blocked, in the middle of a row in one of the smallest economy seats I have ever known, between two men, one with a very high BMI and BO, the other who jiggled his legs, chanted, and played with his mobile phone for the whole leg of the flight. 

 To cap it we had one of those landings that, despite my lack of any real fear of flying, made me think my end had come. So, no I said, not exactly glamorous, but certainly, thinking of that trip and the rich experience of watching NZ Midwives at work, attending their conference, speaking with media about what I had seen, was rewarding, fulfilling and exciting. Certainly an experience I wouldn’t have missed in a million years.

 We have come a long way, but we have further to go

Above all I have learned that we have come a long way, but that we have further to go to build a better future. Each one of us will contribute to this better future in different ways. One thing is certain, we cannot support a status quo.

 A better future for all will require busting myths, lighting up blind spots, changing the way we do things, making sure we can play our full part. It will require that we tip the balance, change the game, support transformative change. It will need courage and commitment.

 We will all need courage, the courage to see things clearly and to make profound changes, profound changes that will come not only from big grand changes but also from apparently small acts.

 The words of Emma Watson

 I want to finish with the words of Emma Watson. Emma you will remember was star of the Harry Potter Movies. She is now ambassador of the he/she campaign to reduce gender inequalities.

 In finding the courage to give her speech to the United Nations and step up to the role she said “If not now when?  If not me who?”

 Such simple questions give us the courage to act.

 So tomorrow the now will have come, and each one of you will be the me who will need the courage to challenge and create a better future.

 But for now tonight, the dance floor calls.

 I wish you, above all else, enjoyment and joy in your work, and great fun tonight.

 Thank you.