ARM Study Day 2018: Conference Review by Ruth Weston

The 2018 ARM study day in Wigan was described by Dr Lesley Choucri as “Midwifery Nourishment” and I couldn’t agree with her more. This was a wonderful day of learning, sharing and refilling our cups ready to go back to our own regions “Stronger Together”.

“Stronger Together” was one of Kathryn Gutteridge’s themes, which came out of her desire to remind us all that we need to stand together during these challenging times. She pointed out that all midwives are midwives, whether they work for the NHS, private companies or as independent midwives. For the good of the profession – and every midwife – we MUST support each other. There is so much horrific bullying, and areas of practice which are lacking in compassion. Can each person make a change by reflecting on their own practice?

Of course, Better Births was an essential part of the ARM study day, and Claire Mathews , deputy Head of Midwifery for NHS England, outlined its implementation with a focus on Continuity of Carer. Because this was a midwifery audience, Claire focused on the understandable worries that some midwives have of how continuity will work for them, especially as some midwives have experience of continuity services where they were given entirely unreasonable caseloads. With a short-term target of around 20% of women to have continuity, Claire recommended that initially trusts worked on encouraging those midwives who were interested in offering continuity to jump in and have a go, lighting the way for others to follow.

I was particularly struck by Jo Dagustun’s talk on her research into women’s experiences of birth which was an uncomfortable listen for the audience of midwives. Jo explained her PhD research which included women’s experiences of  the maternity system.

The key messages I heard in this excellent, many-layered reflection were:

  • That for women the key antenatal teacher/education was their experience of the maternity system itself.  What women are told in antenatal classes and by professionals about what they can choose, the care they can ask for or receive is over written by actual experience.
  • That women’s experiences of the maternity system, including birth, is of a ‘hostile’ environment; spaces and interactions that do not feel friendly towards the health and wellbeing of mother and baby. Women therefore made decisions on what they saw as the best way of protecting the physical and mental well-being of themselves and their child. Far from this resulting in choices for midwifery led care it often resulted in women choosing a medical birth. It also resulted in women providing partial information or telling professionals what they think is expected rather than the truth.
  • Finally, the women interviewed did not see midwives as a distinct profession with in maternity. Indeed they were not clear what midwives are. Processed through a fragmentary system and seeing multiple professionals, midwives did not stand out. In this context women did not want continuity so much as kindness from the professionals they were with.

This final point provoked a lot of reflection. It is shockingly sad that kindness is not standard in the maternity system. It is also disturbing to realise that midwifery does not stand out to most women in the maternity system. Is this how far the profession has faded? Just another health care professional doing their job? It also has some real consequences for continuity, for instance, who would want continuity from a midwife who did not show kindness?

Finally, Jo, with admirable tact and honesty, presented an example of an interaction between a service user and professionals on social media. What came through to me were professionals who thought they were being kind and helpful but from the service user’s perspective were not. Also, she showed health professionals who wanted the service user to see it from their point of view but did not themselves ‘stand in the shoes of the woman’ – surely a mark of the with-woman profession of midwifery. We need to reflect on how much the maternity system has broken the midwifery tradition of being with-woman and made the midwife a just another health care professional.

In better news, a big shout out needs to happen to Airedale Hospital Trust who have been a shining light on the issue of Independent Midwives and their ability to offer intrapartum care, as Airedale is providing them with indemnity to ensure that they can continue to practice. In return the Trust has these amazing and skilled midwives sharing their experience and knowledge, leading to improved services to women and happier staff. Airedale join several other Trusts across the country who are supporting Independent Midwives in a similar way, as is outlined in the recent IMUK blog.

Aquabirths Hi-Lo Keeling Birth ChairMargaret Jowitt’s Hi-Lo system was on display alongside the Aquabirths stand (see photos to the left for two ways that the Hi-Lo can be used). Also known as the Osborne Kneeling Chair, this wonderful piece of kit is a must for every obstetric room. It is a simple, strong and easily cleaned frame with cushioned supports which women can kneel, lean or sit on. The Hi-Lo is designed to ensure that midwives can easily access women for observations, and the small footprint means that it will fit into most obstetric rooms with ease. A video explaining how the Hi-Lo works is hereSoftbirths Mini birth couch

Aquabirths also had their Softbirths mini birthing couch on display which midwives Deborah Hughes and Deborah Neiger had fun modelling as you can see!  A smaller version of the full birth couch, the mini couch fits into smaller spaces to provide comfort and support to women in different upright birthing positions.

ARM Coordinator, Katherine Hales, rounded off the day with an update on ARM’s campaign for an independent midwifery regulator. The NMC is not fit for purpose as has been discussed on this blog multiple times. ARM now believes that it is essential that midwifery is separated from nursing, and has regulation which focuses on the needs of midwives, which the NMC simply does not do. The focus now is on the midwifery code and midwifery panel being managed by midwives under the umbrella regulation of the Health and Care Professionals Council which oversee many other similar sized groups, such as physiotherapists. This regulator seems to work better to support the professionals it oversees than the NMC does.

All in all, an exceptional day – many thanks to ARM for all their hard work!

#WiganARM18

 

 

 

Shropshire Birth Centre Closures – Making a Mockery of Consultation

“One of the great strengths of this country is that we have an NHS that – at its best – is of the people, by the people and for the people…we need to engage with communities and citizens in new ways, involving them directly in decisions about the future of health and care services.” (NHS Five Year Forward View) (1)

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) are repeatedly closing the Ludlow Birth Centre, as well as the Bridgnorth and Oswestry Birth Centres. The closures – for between 12 hours and several weeks – happen without notice, and seem to be stepping stones towards permanent closure. This is a rural area, with long distances to travel from scattered homes to hospital, meaning that the Shropshire MLUs are essential services for the entire maternity journey, providing antenatal, birth and postnatal support to women and their babies without them having to make long, expensive and stressful journeys.

Maternity services are the most commonly used health (as opposed to illness) services provided by the NHS, and they need to be treated like all heavily used services – easy access in the place where people are living. We are not asked to travel to hospital to see the GP or a dentist, and rightly so, as to do so would lead to stress, costs and hospital acquired infections. Yet pregnant women, whose immunity is already lowered by the natural effects of pregnancy, are being asked to travel for miles for regular midwifery appointments and expose themselves and their babies to dangerous bugs. Public transport is very poor, and in some places non-existent. With no local point of contact for midwives, the other option is for midwives to spend hours driving to women to do home visits. New proposals from Shropshire CCG will resolve this issue by simply cancelling postnatal support at home! Meanwhile, SaTH is already reducing access to antenatal and postnatal care during periods of MLU closure.

For some women, the direct effect of this situation is that they are unable to access care, and this disproportionately affects low income women –  a huge irony given that the NHS was created in huge part to ensure that everyone, no matter their financial position, can receive medical attention. “Free at the point of care” is of no use to those who cannot reach the point of care. Some women limit the number of antenatal appointments that they go to, as getting to them is just too hard. Others are unable to travel to hospital during labour, or the midwife is unable to travel to them – so women end up birthing at home without a midwife present. There have been five BBAs in Ludlow alone since May last year. Postnatally, parents who do not have the resources to reach hospital out of hours and who are worried about what may (or may not be) a mild issue with themselves or their baby are waiting until the buses are running again, with the risk that what seems to be minor was actually very serious.

Closing the regional Midwife Led Units means that women and their babies are being put at risk. Women NEED the regional MLUs to be able to access the care that they need. MLUs are safer for women and babies who are at low risk of complications (2) and MLUs are suitable for all women to access routine midwifery care before and after birth.

SaTH claim that they have consulted on some (but not all) of the closures, and claim too that women prefer to birth in hospital, but this is simply untrue. Their strategy has been to regularly close the MLUs, leaving women no choice but to “choose” hospital birth. In fact, engagement carried out by Shropshire CCG found:

“During the engagement work of the CCG, rural women have been adamant that their MLUs are needed and must remain.

Women say they need to reach their intended place of birth quickly and easily. This is to be ended.

Women say they value being cared for by the same midwife, or one of a team of midwives, through antenatal care, birth and postnatal care. This will go, as rural women are to be required to give birth in an unfamiliar setting with staff they do not know.

Women have repeatedly praised the postnatal care available in rural MLUs, and this has been recognised by the CCG as ‘exceptional’. This, too, is to end.” (Shropshire Women Speak Out) (3)

Women and their babies are being put at significant risk of harm, and we call upon the CCG and Trust to implement the directives of Better Births, as well as fulfilling their obligations to providing safe care, by re-opening and supporting the Midwifery Led Units across Shropshire.

 (1) https://www.england.nhs.uk/five-year-forward-view/

(2) https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/birthplace

(3) https://shropshiredefendournhs.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/shropshire-women-speak-out.pdf