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Zepherina Veitch Lecture

We are proud to announce this year’s Zepherina Veitch lecture ‘Inequality in health outcomes and me’ with Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE

We are delighted to announce that this year’s Zepherina Veitch Lecture will be delivered by Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, England’s first Chief Midwifery Officer, on 10 March in Leeds.

In the World Health Organization-designated International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, Jacqueline will be talking about her midwifery career and in particular her experience of being a leader in the development and delivery of maternity services, including as the most senior advisor to the Government on all matters relating to midwifery.

The Zepherina Veitch Lecture, named after one of the pioneers of modern midwifery and a founder member of the RCM, presents the best in contemporary midwifery thought leadership. It follows the annual education conference and the presentation of the annual
RCM Fellowships.

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE
Chief Midwifery Officer & National Maternity Safety Champion, NHS England & NHS Improvement

Jacqueline is the Chief Midwifery Officer for the NHS in England and is one of two National Maternity Safety Champions.  She has previously been the Head of Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England and is visiting Professor of Midwifery at Kings College London and London South Bank University.

She has worked as a midwife and a nurse and held senior positions in clinical practice, education, leadership and management including: Director of Midwifery and Nursing positions for Women’s and Children’s services at Imperial College Healthcare Trust & Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Academic roles have included: Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Leader, LME and Professor of Midwifery.

Her experience has seen her leading and influencing national maternity standards and guidance. She also influences healthcare, nationally and internationally through, education and publications and is frequently invited to speak at national and international conferences. She is a member of Tommy’s Charity National Advisory Board as Midwifery advisor, and the Women of the Year management committee. Her voluntary work currently includes  Midwifery Ambassador for the charity ‘Saying Goodbye’.

In 2014 she received the HSJ, BME Pioneers award and in 2015 she was selected from over 100 nominations for inclusion on Nursing Times’ Leaders 2015 list that celebrates nurses and midwives who are pioneers, entrepreneurs and inspirational role models in their profession.

Who was Zepherina Veitch?

Zepherina Veitch (1836-1894) was the daughter of a clergyman who trained as a nurse under the All Saints’ Sisters at University College Hospital. In 1868 she took charge of the surgical wards at King’s College Hospital, and a year later she took up an appointed as Superintendent of Nurses at St George’s Hospital.

During the Franco-Prussian War she nursed with the All Saints’ Sisters at Sedan. On her return in 1871 she became Sister-in-charge at Charing Cross Hospital. It was at this time that she became increasingly concerned about the situation prevailing in midwifery, particularly among the poor. She undertook training in midwifery at the British Lying-In Hospital near Endell Street, qualifying in January 1873 and went on to obtain the diploma of the London Obstetrical Society, before beginning her work with the poor living in the slums of London.

In 1876, she was obliged to give up her career after marrying the distinguished surgeon, Professor Henry Smith and instead put her energies into the cause of midwifery reform. Her aim was to improve the status and efficiency of midwives through training, and argued that a woman should not be able to call herself a midwife unless she was properly trained.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when she submitted an article on midwifery to the Women’s Gazette she immediately came to the attention of the editor, Louisa Hubbard, who took an interest in expanding women’s work opportunities and in improving their employment conditions. Zepherina Smith was one of seven midwives, all holders of the LOS diploma, who were called to a meeting by Hubbard in December 1881 to form the Matron’s Aid Society, with the aim of improving the training of midwives and securing their registration by act of parliament. The name was chosen because the word ‘midwife’ was rarely used in ‘polite’ society, but by the late 1880s the members of the society were confident enough to change the name to the Midwives’ Institute (which became the Royal College of Midwives in 1948). Zepherina Smith was the treasurer of the society, which had only a handful of members at the beginning, until it was incorporated in 1889. She then became its first president, serving from 1890 until her death in 1894.

It was Zepherina Smith that represented the institute on deputations to the government, and when a committee sat to frame the first Midwives’ Bill in 1890 she was asked to attend the sittings to watch proceedings from the point of view of the midwife. In 1892 she also gave evidence to the select committee on midwifery and delivered numerous papers to clubs and societies on the subject of midwife registration.

After several months of ill health Zepherina Smith died at her home near Woking, Surrey on 8 February 1894.