This post is taken from the September volume of Midwives Chronicle, 1974.
40 years ago, the UK was a turbulent place to be politically. Two General Elections were called for 1974 as a result of the industrial unrest which spawned the Three Day Week, cementing the rocky foundations of a Labour Government which would end five years later following a ‘Winter of Discontent’. As has so often been noted on this blog, many of the issues which the midwifery profession were facing would not seem so surprising today.
The Branch Representatives’ Day which was held in London on 21 June 1974, and is reported in the September issue of the journal, was set in this background of industrial unrest, in particular in the NHS with members of the Confederation of Health Service Employees (COHSE) striking in support of pay demands for nurses. This and the other strikes in the public sector had all made life a bit more difficult for the midwives. General Secretary, Brenda Mee, began her report to the branch officers of the Royal College of Midwives ‘by thanking midwives throughout the United Kingdom for the many hours they had spent quite voluntarily on College work’. Joan Knott, Assistant Secretary, congratulated the Editor and Staff of the Midwives Chronicle on ‘continuing to produce the journal each month despite the three-day working week and industrial disputes in the printing industry.’ Reports of the meeting made note of the setting up of the Halsbury Committee of Inquiry into the pay and related conditions of service of nurses and midwives, and also the College’s determination to represent the educational needs of midwives in the inquiry. Various motions were proposed by the different regional branches, but one in particular has resonance today: proposed by the Kingston-upon-Thames Branch, the following motion was passed by a large majority- ‘That in view of the present shortage of full-time midwives we urge the Royal College of Midwives to press for an improvement in the status and promotion prospects of part-time midwives thus encouraging women to return to midwifery when their families are less demanding knowing that it offers them a worthwhile career.’
Other political arenas in which the RCM were involved was the reporting on the Working of the Abortion Act (the Lane Report), with a timely review of the act and it’s implication on nursing staff, and also representation on a deputation to the Prime Minister (James Callaghan) and Secretary of State for Social Services (Barbara Castle) calling for an inquiry into the financing of the NHS. Most noticeable is the midwives concern into wider issues outside their profession, shown by the quite harrowing front cover shown below. Using an image from a recent campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children focusing on ‘battered babies’ the image is accompanied by the tag line ‘You wouldn’t believe what some people do to their kids.’
It was not all doom and gloom though. The College Annual General Meeting evening function was held on a boat which cruised down the Thames (I will be searching hopefully through some piles of photographs still to be catalogued for more mementoes of this evening!), and I enjoyed this sprightly cartoon advertising the advantages of disposable nappies over terry towelling nappies!