UCLan nets half a million pounds to research the Covid effect on maternity services

The effect Covid-19 has had on services for mothers and babies is the focus of a new study.

Thursday, 16th July 2020, 12:45 pm
Professor Soo Downe

Health professionals and academics in Preston have been been awarded £500,000 to fund for an 18 month-long ASPIRE-COVID19 UK study.

It will look at what lessons can be learned from how maternal and neonatal care providers have responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

The proejct is being led by by the Research in Childbirth and Health (ReaCH team) at the University of Central Lancashire's school of community health and midwifery and THRIVE Centre.

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The UCLan team will be working with counterparts at the universities of Manchester and Southampton and Vrije University in Amsterdam, as well NHS and maternity policy colleagues, voluntary and service user groups on the Economic and Social Research Council financed study.

They will be looking into how health trusts across the UK and in the Netherlands have adjusted their maternity and neonatal services in response to the crisis, and how far this has met the NHS England Better Births policy of safe and personalised maternity care, and parallel policies in the other UK countries.

Since the star the COVID -19 pandemic, maternity and neonatal services across the UK have been severely strained, leading to a series of issues ranging from a reduction in face-to face ante natal and postnatal care provision and restrictions on family members accompanying women to antenatal visits, scan appointments, labour and birth to a ban on some community-based services such as home births, and closure of midwife led units as well as elective Cesarean births.

The pandemic has also resulted in some positive innovations in the use of new technologies, such as video links between families and their hospitalised neonates, or virtual communications between professionals and service users.

Staff have also been affected by the changes in services, both positively and negatively.

The study will look at why there has been wide variation across the UK and also look at what has worked best to provide safe and positive experiences for mothers, families, and staff during the crisis.

As part of its research, the UClan team will work with eight hospital trusts across the country with different profiles, and with different responses to the crisis, to look at how maternity and neonatal services changed since February why, and with what consequences.

Professor Soo Downe from UCLan’s School of Community Health and Midwifery said: "The coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on expectant mothers, their families, and the staff who provide maternity services.

"For some, this has been a negative experience, especially where services have been reduced or withdrawn, or where companionship has been restricted during antenatal care, ultrasound scans, childbirth, or during postnatal and neonatal stays.

"Others seem to have benefited from on-line contact with health care providers, or video links with their babies if they are in neonatal units for a long time.

"She added: " We don’t know how these changes have affected both safety and wellbeing, for all those using maternal and neonatal services, but especially for those who don’t have access to the internet, or for those who tend to have worse outcomes, such as BAME women, or those living in poverty."

Soo said very little known about how to support staff to do the best job possible while ensuring their safety and wellbeing during a pandemic, or a similar crisis.

She added: “Our job over the next 18 months is to look at the way maternity organisations in the UK and the Netherlands have responded to COVID-19, and to work out how we can make sure that ALL mothers, parents and babies get safe and personalised care, despite the challenging times we are all living in."