What is the long term impact on the 352 women who felt they were not treated with respect and dignity? Questions raised by the 2018 Maternity Survey.
Following the publication of the 2018 NHS Maternity Survey, Rebecca Moore and Emma Svanberg, co-founders of the Make Birth Better network speak about what caught their attention from the results, and why the results mean their campaigning is more important than ever.
“At Make Birth Better, we read the results of the National Maternity Survey 2018 with interest. There were some positive changes – 98% of women were asked how they felt emotionally after birth, and women were generally satisfied with the involvement of their partner. What was most striking though, was that – despite Better Births and the Maternity Transformation Programme now being two years old and despite the huge push for improved, person centred maternity care both nationally and globally – there were so many areas which had not improved, and had even deteriorated. It’s also notable, given the results of the MMBRACE report late last year, which demonstrated the disproportionate risk to BAME women giving birth, that these women were not well represented in this survey.
Make Birth Better is a unique collective of parents and professionals, dedicated to reducing the life changing impact of birth trauma. Our Network is made up of parents with lived experience of birth trauma, health care professionals, mental health professionals, birth workers, organisations and professional bodies. We aim to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of birth trauma through clinically-led education, campaigning and research. While we read in the news about improvements in maternity services, our experience as a collective is that we hear from parents that they feel increasingly let down by services, reflected in the survey results.
We have spent the last six months speaking to parents and professionals to explore how birth trauma could be prevented. We’ve come to realise that, while increasing emphasis has been placed on parents to inform themselves about their choices, and individual members of staff to educate themselves, patient experiences of maternity services cannot improve significantly unless we look at wider systemic issues.
Recent reports have clearly pointed to the level of pressure currently on maternity services; such as the NHS Staff Survey (highlighting the level of staff stress), the WHELM study (demonstrating that the “UK’s midwifery workforce is experiencing significant levels of emotional distress”) and the RCOG Workforce report, which stated that ‘pressure is rising’.
We know from a wide body of research that burnout has a detrimental impact not only on patient satisfaction but on patient safety too. This is reflected in the areas for improvement in the Maternity Survey, with adequate personalised information, home visits and awareness of the medical history of the mother and baby all being very difficult to achieve in an overstretched service.
It’s crucial too, to think about the impact these statistics have on the individuals answering the survey. What is it like for the 26% of women left on their own whilst worried during labour? Why are the majority of women giving birth with their legs in stirrups – contrary to best practice guidance? And what is the long term impact on the 352 women who felt they were not treated with respect and dignity?
At Make Birth Better – as well as campaigning for improved support for parents – we are campaigning for improved support for healthcare and maternity professionals, to raise awareness of birth trauma and the now well established link between staff interactions and difficult birth experiences. Women so often feel to blame for their bad birth experiences, but perhaps it is a traumatised system which is letting them down. We feel it is crucial that staff are supported, both in meeting their training needs but also in managing their own stress and vicarious trauma through a workplace culture of compassion. By adequately supporting staff, this can have a ripple effect, improving the experiences for new parents, their babies and family members. We’d love you to join us in making birth better for everyone – staff and parents alike.
Rebecca Moore and Emma Svanberg, co-founders of the Make Birth Better network