The 126 page Better Births report was led in 2016 by Baroness Cumberlege, Chair of the Maternity Review, to set out the NHS’ vision for the “planning, design and safe delivery of maternity services; how women, babies and families will be able to get the type of care they want; and how staff will be supported to deliver such care.” There has been a bit of fanfare in the press this week as Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk hospitals officially launched their brand new way of working in line with the recommendations set out in Better Births.
The aim is to deliver a more personalised service to new mothers and their families, with each pregnant mum getting her own dedicated midwifery team and the reassurance of a midwife she knows present at the birth. Initially, six new ‘continuity of care’ teams have been created across Ipswich, West Suffolk and Colchester hospitals, providing antenatal, birth and post-natal care and offering new mothers a new level of support.
Why is continuity of care important?
National evidence shows that women who receive continuity of care through their pregnancy are:
- 16% less likely to suffer pregnancy loss and 19% less likely to lose their baby before 24 weeks
- 24% less likely to experience pre-term birth
- 15% less likely to require regional analgesia
- 16% less likely to have an episiotomy
At the launch event in Hadleigh on Tuesday, I spoke to a new mum who had received continuity of care, right through her pregnancy and birth, and she couldn’t fault it. She thought it was wonderful to see the same midwife all the way through, and it meant for her that she didn’t have to keep explaining her story and history to every new midwife she saw.
I had accidental continuity of care with my second baby nearly 6 years ago, because I had a homebirth and my community midwife happened to be on call and closest to me when I went into labour. It was a relief at the time to have someone I already knew coming into my home and at a vulnerable time I already had a relationship of trust built up. However, before the event I didn’t know whether she would be available when the time came, so if someone I knew was guaranteed to be there during my labour it would certainly have been reassuring.
How will it work?
It’s not the case that we are going to each be allocated one midwife who will support you one to one the whole way through – the logistics of that would be a nightmare. I asked Marie Fletcher, Community Maternity Matron, at the launch event how it will work, and she explained that there will be teams of midwives in different geographical areas. So you will get to know your team, rather than a single midwife.
At West Suffolk hospital they have introduced a team of continuity providing carer for home births, and as a result they have seen an increase in home birth rates. They have also introduced specialist midwives for elective caesareans, so if you know you are going to have a c-section, you get to meet your midwife in advance who will be with you in theatre. The feedback has been excellent for this, and mothers feel less like they are going in for an operation, and more like they are going in to give birth.
As part of the Better Births programme, pregnant women will also create personalised care plans. If you are pregnant you may soon be offered an app into which you can write your plan and diarise your appointments. The idea is to give you much more ownership over your own care and choices. The app has been trialled in other areas with great success, and soon a trial is coming to parts of Ipswich.
Getting involved in shaping maternity services
Another key area of Better Births, is the focus on getting “service users” (that’s you and me) involved in helping to shape local maternity services. This idea is common with other parts of the NHS, but for maternity in particular, commissioners have set up Maternity Voices Partnerships. An MVP is a local group that meets on a regular basis and also collects feedback from people in the community. These partnerships are taken very seriously by the local maternity commissioners and they are obligated to listen to what the MVP has to say, which puts service users at the centre of decision making.
The MVP has a role to play in capturing data from the local area, so that it can gain a full picture from all sorts of people and their experiences, whether positive or negative. All this means that never before have ordinary people who use Ipswich hospital maternity services had such an opportunity to shape how maternity services should look in the future.
All the acronyms and NHS-speak can seem pretty dry, but what it boils down to is that if you have something to say about Ipswich hospital maternity services, or a good idea, or any suggestions for improvement, saying it through the MVP means that you will be listened to.
At the moment Jo is the chair of our local MVP, but we need more people to get involved and form a committee, so we can drive the MVP forward. Jo and I are rather busy running Suffolk Babies, so we need your help! We are a bit behind in Ipswich, so have a look a West Suffolk’s MVP for an idea of what we should be aiming for: http://www.westsuffolkmvp.org.uk/
If you are interested in getting involved and would like to help out me and Jo then please email firstname.lastname@example.org.