International Women's Day - Interview with Joanne Parkington

07-Mar-2016

As International Women’s Day approaches we speak to one of the North West’s most inspirational and successful businesswomen.

Midwife Joanne Parkington is the founder and CEO of midwifery service One to One Midwives.

The service, which is commissioned by the NHS, provides high quality, personalised care in the heart of the community. One to One Midwives specialise in a caseloading model of care. This is where a woman has the support of one dedicated midwife during pregnancy and after the birth of her baby, and during labour if a home birth has been chosen.

It is exactly this type of care that has been recommended in the recent National Maternity Review which recommends that women’s maternity care should be personalised to their needs and they should have continuity of carer.

It is something Joanne, originally from Wilmslow, is passionate about and is hopeful the maternity review will enable the care offered by One to One Midwives to be rolled out further afield.

Joanne said: “The Maternity Review is our opportunity to show ‘the art of the possible’ - continuity of carer can work, women want it and it can be a choice option for all women regardless of how they are defined by other people’s perception of risk.

“This is the time to take back midwifery and for midwives to truly become autonomous - not just clinically but in how they work.

“It will be a challenge - there is a desire from a large contingent within the NHS to not make changes and to continue as we always do, to find fault with potential and look for ways to retain their own status - so we will have to keep working hard to show that there is another way, a way that is safer, that will provide women and babies with a healthier future, both physically and emotionally.”

It is this passion that saw Joanne, who did her midwife training at the University of Chester, to set up One to One Midwives in 2010, such was her desire for women to experience personalised care and midwives to have the freedom to practise their profession in the purest sense.

Speaking of her drive to set up the firm she says: “I am a midwife first and foremost and I set up One to One because I was so disillusioned with how I had to work within an NHS system - it just did not meet my own ethos and philosophy of midwifery - that birth is a normal physiological event and that women should be cared for by a midwife that they know and trust at such a magical yet vulnerable time of their life.

“I truly believe that true midwifery is a vocation, midwives are born not created by education. You are a midwife in your heart before you become a midwife in your brain!” Setting up the company was easy, she says, getting the NHS to commission it was the hard part and it was Wirral Care Commissioning Group (CCG) that stepped forward first. Joanne said: “The Wirral was the area that had a desire to do something different and was willing to work with us to make the transformation that was needed in maternity services.”

Fast forward to 2016 and as the service approaches its sixth anniversary it is still operating on the Wirral and also in Liverpool, West Cheshire, Warrington, Crewe and Essex – where the local NHS commissioning group approached the company to work with them, such was the demand for the service One to One provides.

There are still challenges with Joanne citing ‘an NHS culture suspicious of new providers and who look to criticise and blame instead of working in a collaborative way with the woman in the centre of her care’ as one of them.

“It is more about what is best for institutions and not what is best for the woman and her family,” she says.

But Joanne, who describes herself as tenacious, loyal and resilient, is buoyed by the National Maternity Review and is ambitious for continued success with One to One Midwives.

Looking to the future she says: “My vision is that One to One becomes the provider of ‘choice’ because we continue to provide the care that women want but also because we are making birth safer.

“Women need to be empowered to birth and trust in their ability to birth normally.

“We have to reclaim ‘normality’ - we are in danger of redefining complexity in pregnancy and birth as the new norm and we have to stop the tide and return the art of birth back to women - not to health care professionals that think they know better.

“All women have the right to self-determination - we would be appalled if someone told us where to buy our clothes or what to wear but we allow them to tell us how and where to birth.”

The caseloading model of care the company utilises is hard work, which Joanne acknowledges, but also has its benefits. “Caseloading midwifery is a way of life not a job,” she says.

“You need to embrace the challenges to experience the joys - there is nothing more fulfilling than being present at the beginning of life and witnessing the power of nature, this becomes even more fulfilling when the women that you care for become a mother before your eyes! It is magical.”

When asked what inspires her Joanne says: “Passion and a real belief in midwifery.

“Midwives are born not made and we need to nurture and care for birth and birthing in our communities. We need to honour women and value them for their contribution to the future of humankind.”

It is clear this passion for women, motherhood and family spills over into Joanne’s private life as while admitting it’s a bit of a cliché she cites her greatest achievement to date is ‘being a mother and now a grandmother’ while adding: “I love my family with all my heart and I do this for them.”