A pioneering advice line staffed by midwives has seen tens of thousands of new and expectant mothers get guidance on labour, breastfeeding, sleep and other health problems.
Women can get advice over the phone 24 hours a day, 365 days per year from the Surrey Heartlands Pregnancy Advice Line.
The dedicated phone line is one of a range of maternity and perinatal schemes being rolled out across the country as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, to make giving birth safer, offer quicker expert care to parents and support new families.
Around 20,000 women have received speedy advice and as well as being quicker and more convenient the line has prevented 100 ambulance trips for mums-to-be who would otherwise have had to go to hospital.
The midwives direct people to the most appropriate place of care, and provide midwifery advice for 999 operators and other health care professionals.
The line also frees up midwives’ time to deliver more personal care onwards, by reducing the need for hospital visits and redirecting calls directly to a trained specialist.
Call handlers, based at South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust Headquarters, take around 126 calls every day from local residents, with four in five queries answered within one minute.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock said: “The days and weeks before and after the birth of your child are among the most precious in your life – and while it is an exciting time, it can also seem overwhelming. It’s joyous but there’s pressure to feel joyous when you can in fact feel lonely and dog tired. That’s normal but not everyone knows it.
“I want our NHS to be the best place in the world to have a baby, and that means personalised support throughout, from the moment somebody finds out they are expecting to the exhilarating and exhausting first weeks of parenthood.
“Through our NHS Long Term Plan these kinds of innovative maternity advice services – which are already doing so much to reassure and inform new and expectant mothers – will be rolled out across the country so that more families get the help they need at this special time.”
Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Head of Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England, said: “Timely, convenient advice for mums before, during and after birth is crucial to giving babies the best start in life.
“The NHS Long Term Plan will deliver world-class care for new families and this scheme in Surrey shows that the health service in England offers dedicated, reassuring care while freeing up vital extra resources for midwives to help more people.”
One mum who used the new service said: “The advice line was great. The midwife put me at ease and provided me with the support and advice I needed. She was reassuring and it was easy to get through. Just what I needed.”
Dr Claire Fuller, system leader for Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System (ICS), said: “It’s a fantastic innovation which gives new mums and mums-to-be reassurance and support when they need it most. Speaking to a midwife means they get specialist care immediately without unnecessary trips to hospital. Where women do need urgent help they can get a midwife’s expertise.”
Although having a baby in England is now safer than 10 years ago, with a reduction in stillbirths and fewer deaths of mums and babies, with the NHS Long Term Plan committing to driving further improvements in care and reducing variation between communities.
The Surrey scheme is an example of moves being implemented for parents across the country, with the NHS Long Term Plan committed to supporting new and expectant parents by:
- Offering continuity of care to most women, with expectant mums seeing the same midwife throughout their pregnancy.
- Giving 100,000 women access to their maternity records digitally, via their smart phone, next year.
- Establishing Maternal Medicine Networks, which will give extra protection to women with acute health problems, through specialist advice throughout their pregnancy.
- Expanding mental health services for new parents, with specialist care to be offered to mums for the first two years of a child’s life, and tailored care for new dads.
The Surrey phone line was launched last year as part of the NHS England Better Births Early Adopter sites to test a range of new and innovative ways of working to help transform maternity services.
The hospitals worked with the ambulance service to integrate their maternity teams and staff a call handling rota taking the pressure off busy units.
Trudy Mills, Director of Children and Family Health Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust, said: “We knew maternity units in Surrey were taking huge volumes of calls which had an impact on the quality and time midwives could spend with patients on their wards.
“We innovated by working closely together across the three hospitals to reduce pressure on wards and the ambulance services. Now we have a service mums are delighted with which doesn’t cost more, provides better care and saves the NHS in the long run.”
All women have the option of a digital maternity record, while GPs and labour wards can see notes from midwives, to join up care.
The Early Adopter sites also tested a range of other innovations including better use of electronic records, improved personalised care planning and using small teams of midwives to offer greater continuity of care to women.
The chosen seven areas covered a population of nine million, with around 126,300 births each year.
Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System (ICS) has worked with the local authority and voluntary sector organisations in the community, to improve services for new families.