We are NOT using the evidence: it’s time to change


I am posting this on #NHSChangeDay 2014.

I pledge to continue to make the case for change in maternity services, until ears listen.

Recently, my lovely Italian midwife friend who is a Doctoral student in England, told me of her confusion. ‘What I can’t understand’, she began ‘is why practice in maternity services in UK remains unchallenged when you have so many esteemed academics and the some of best research evidence in the world? She made me think.

Last week I was invited to present evidence related to continuity of care and choice in place of birth at one of the Personalised Maternity Care stakeholder events, in Leeds. The events are being held around the country, and are hosted by NHS Health Education England in response to a request from the Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr Dan Poulter. Dr Poulter wants to explore the ambitions for future Maternity Services and what such services might look like by 2022.

You can read info via the tweets here.

So on finding the evidence it became very apparent-we certainly aren’t using it.

Here are my slides.  I decided to share them widely to enable discussion and hopefully receive comments and ideas from readers to help inform the Minister.

Slide 1: There is an abundance of policy, guidance and results of surveys directing maternity services, which is largely being ignored. This is alarming, though not surprising. Yet let us consider: why was the Peel Report (Ministry of Health 1970) directing 100% hospital ‘deliveries’ given urgent attention, and fully implemented WITHOUT  evidence presented or women’s opinions to back it up?


Slide 2: We are not using latest research evidence, and according to the National Audit Office report (NAO) and the Public Accounts Committee report  (PAC) there is no measuring or reporting progress, no data, no assurance of value for money, and huge variations in cost, quality, safety and outcomes. In addition, women and families are reporting dissatisfaction with their care (Birthrights, CQC, Women's Institute), few women are receiving continuity, and choice in pace of birth (NAO, BirthChoice UK). Furthermore, stillbirth rates in England are highest in UK, and litigation costs increasing.

Slide 3: Margaret Hodge MP spells it out for you to read. Maragert chairs the PAC, and her observations are, I believe, a true reflection of maternity services in England today.

Slide 4 and 5: Reality for midwives. Desperation which often leads to leaving the profession, and for those can’t leave, numbness which increases risk of substandard care. There is a link to another post on this blog, where many comments have been made.

Slide 6: The NHS Mandate gives some direction for the future. Named midwife. What does that mean? The NHS England definition is 'a midwife who co-ordinates all the care and delivers some of the care' .   Continuity of care is another misused phrase, but if continuity is good, surely there would be improved responses to ‘mental health concerns’.

Slide 7: Highlights the main references for the research evidence for continuity of care

Slide 8: Reveals some of what this evidence tells us. How can we not take notice?

Slide 9: Did you know that the National Service Framework for children, young people and maternity services was still the current directive for maternity services?  And it states that every woman should be able ‘to choose the most appropriate place and professional during childbirth’

Slide 10, 11 & 12 : The evidence for choice in place of birth has NEVER been so strong as it is now, for women with no or expected complications. These are the key findings of the Birthplace Study but in general it tells us:

-Giving birth is generally very safe

-Midwifery units appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother

-For women having a second or subsequent baby, home births and midwifery unit births appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother

-For women having a first baby, a planned home birth increases the risk for the baby (this is very small- four more babies in every thousand births had a poor outcome as a result of a planned home birth in first pregnancies).

-Women planning to give birth in a midwifery unit experienced substantially less medical intervention than those in an obstetric unit.

For women having a second or subsequent baby, home births and midwifery unit births appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother

 For multiparous women, there were no significant differences in adverse perinatal outcomes

between planned home births or midwifery unit births and planned births in obstetric units.

 For multiparous women, birth in a non‐obstetric unit setting significantly and substantially reduced the odds of having an intrapartum caesarean section, instrumental delivery or episiotomy.

Important points I would like to make here, for those working closely with expectant parents:

Do you mention the above evidence when talking to women about their choices? I expect most will remember to mention the small risk for first time mothers wishing to birth at home. But do you advise women about the potential increased risk of unnecessary  medical intervention?

How do you make evidence accessible for parents? How do you deliver the evidence, do you know what it says? This is a brilliant article on how to share evidence based information. It’s a must read.

Slide 13: Is self-explanatory. Note the decrease in obstetric units (OU) and increase in alongside midwifery led units (MLU). This coincides with the number of amalgamated Trusts, and the aforesaid NSF. There is only a slight increase in the number of freestanding midwifery units (FMU), probably due to closures corresponding with others opening.  The slide informs us that very few women have the full choice guarantee as proposed in the NSF in 2004.

Slide 14: Because of the above, the slide shows that most women (87%) give birth in an OU.

Slide 15: Two recent media articles demonstrating ongoing constraints of providing home birth and birth centre births, yet the evidence is clear that women choosing to birth in these venues are there less to endure unnecessary interventions, and the service is more cost effective.  Does that make sense?

Slide 16: The best estimate of women eligible to have their baby in a non OU setting (low risk) is 50%, although WHO estimate this should be between 70-80%.   Taking 50% of 2012 birth rate (700,000) = 350,000  and deducting 89,000 women who actually had midwife led births in non OU setting, leaves us with the shocking figure of 261,000 women and babies who, according to Birthplace Study, are potentially exposed to unnecessary medical intervention.

This is unacceptable. Yet it remains silent, unspoken, when the small risk of home birth is magnified out of proportion. In addition to the human cost in terms of morbidity, there are financial implications, and pressures on the workforce. So now we have the evidence, and things MUST to change.

Slide 17: Some of the effects of the previous slide, in terms of mode of birth, and maternal feelings. Diagrams taken from the Dignity Survey 2013.

Slide 18: The potential consequences of current maternity service provision.

Slide 19: What Personalised Maternity Care should look like, including flexible use of clinical guidelines, to support women’s choices.

Slide 20: Relevant and important recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee.

The following slides give and example of maternity services in East Lancashire, where I worked for 35 years. I have highlighted these award-winning services to demonstrate how choice and continuity can be achieved. The service is situated in one of the most socially deprived Local Authorities in England, and has undergone a significant reconfiguration in 2013. With 30% of 6,700 births per year in the three birth centres (2 FMUs and 1 AMU), they are maximizing opportunity for women and staff, with excellent results.  The slides demonstrate financial gain from the model of care, and how mothers, midwives and managers feel about the service.  The key factors of success for the model in East Lancashire are:

-Model of care: midwives work in the community AND the birth centre, providing continuity and accurate and positive information sharing about place of birth

-Collaboration: obstetricians, midwives, neonatoligists, service uses, auxiliary staff support each other, and work together to ensure the woman and her family are supported.

-Leadership: the service has strong midwifery leadership at all levels.

The last slide is of my newest granddaughter, Myla. When Myla is of age to have children of her own, I want her to know that the evidence we now have was used well, to give her the best chance ever to have a positive experience and healthy baby.

Please leave your comments. We musn’t give up.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 18.46.46

Table: Dodwell and Newburn (2010) 


Ministry of Health (1970) Domiciliary Midwifery and Maternity Bed Needs: the Report of the Standing Maternity and Midwifery Advisory Committee (Sub-committee Chairman J. Peel), HMSO, London

Photographs used in slides are owned by Sheena Byrom and East Lancashire Hospitals Trust