The Central Midwives Board was set up by the Midwives Act 1902, whose provisions prohibited unqualified and unregistered women from practising midwifery. The aims of the act were 'to secure the better training of midwives and to regulate their practice'. Only midwives certified under this act could practice in England and Wales.
A midwife could be certified under section 2 of the 1902 Act, provided that she held a certificate in midwifery from"the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, or from the Obstetrical Society of London or the Coombe lying-in Hospital and Guiness's Dispensary, or the Rotunda Hospital for the Relief of the Poor lying-in Women of Dublin, or such other certificate as may be approved by the Central Midwives Board", or that"at the passing of [the Midwives Act, 1902 she had been for at least one year in bona fide practice as a midwife, and that she bears a good character".
Section 6 of the 1902 Act stated that 'there shall be a roll of midwives, containing:-
- (1) The names of those midwives who have been certified under section two of the act;
- (2) The names of all other midwives who have been certified under this act.'
The secretary of the Central Midwives Board was charged with the custody of the Midwives Roll and its publication.
On the passing of the Midwives Act, 1902, local councils of counties and county boroughs became"local supervisory bodies", and were charged with the supervision of midwives within the areas of their jurisdiction. Midwives intending to practice (and certified under the act) had to give notice in writing of their intention to do so to their local supervisory body by January of the year preceding that during which they intended to practice. Local supervisory bodies were responsible for investigating cases of malpractice and negligence, discipline of midwives, and for supplying the secretary of the Central Midwives Board with the names and addresses of all midwives in their area who had notified them of their intention to practice. These notifications were then compiled by the Central Midwives Board to form the Midwives Roll.
The Board also had powers in England and Wales to provide training and examination as a prerequisite to enrolment, and to draw up rules of conduct both for themselves, and for those practising as midwives.
Under the 1902 Act, the following institutions each appointed a registered medical practitioner to the Board: the Royal College of Physicians of London; the Royal College of Surgeons of England; the Society of Apothecaries; and the Incorporated Midwives. The Association of County Councils, the Queen Victoria's Jubilee Institute for Nurses and the Royal British Nurses Association each appointed a member; whilst the Lord President of the Council appointed two further members, one of whom was to be a woman. The Privy Council had general supervisory powers over the Board.
When the Ministry of Health was set up in 1919, the minister took over the powers of the Privy Council and the Lord President relating to the Board.
In 1983 the Central Midwives Board ceased to exist, under the provision of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979, which established a United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting.