College of Midwives leader Karen Guilliland announced at the New Zealand College of Midwives conference in Rotorua that she will retire at the end of this year, after leading the College since soon after its formation in 1989.

In 1990 the then Health Minister Helen Clark saw through the passing of the Nurses Amendment Act 1990, which gave registered midwives the right to work autonomously with women throughout their pregnancy and labour, leading to a major transformation of care in New Zealand to a midwifery-led model. 

Clark tweeted on hearing of Guilliland’s upcoming retirement, saying that the college chief executive had done a remarkable job as a leader of New Zealand midwives over decades. She said Guilliland was one of the “many wonderful women” who supported her in passing the 1990 landmark legislation and thanked her for her “consistent strong advocacy for midwifery and for women”.

Most recently, Guilliland led an historic 2015 pay equity court claim seeking to help address a growing midwifery workforce crisis that saw midwives marching on Parliament this year. The court claim was withdrawn last year in return for an interim six per cent fee increase and the chance to co-design a new funding model for lead maternity care (LMC) midwives. The Budget delivered extra $103m over four years for a watered-down co-design proposal, which the College has said left members underwhelmed as it fell “very short” of meeting a decade of underfunding for midwives.

Professor Hannah Dahlen, an Australian midwifery leader and former president of the Australian College of Midwives, tweeted that Guilliland was one of the “strongest and loudest voices for women and midwives in the world” and that “she has led New Zealand to lead the world when it comes to midwifery”.

An article this year by the advocacy manager for the International Confederation of Midwives said it was in 1978, after the birth of her first child, that Guilliland began to advocate for patients’ rights.

“I was never particularly ambitious,” Guillliland told the Confederation. “But everything changed when I became pregnant. I realised what a horrendous experience [birth] could be for some women. I had my children in a birthing unit and I was quite sure about how I wanted the process to be, but I realised other women didn’t have these opportunities.

Guillliland has represented midwifery on numerous forums such as the Nursing Council and the Pharmac Board, and was a Canterbury DHB member for six years and a member of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Board for 20 years.

Guilliland co-authored The Midwifery Partnership: A Model for Practice and Women’s Business: The history of the NZ College of Midwives. She was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for Services to New Zealand in Midwifery and Women’s Health in 2000.

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