England’s top midwife has today praised NHS maternity teams for providing high quality care in the face of the most significant challenge to ever face the health services, and urged new and expectant families to continue to come forward for routine checks and urgent advice.
Since the NHS put itself on the highest level of alert over coronavirus on 30th January, local midwives and maternity services have helped to bring an estimated 158,000 babies into the world – most famous among them being No 10’s newest resident, Wilfred.
Marking International Day of the Midwife, NHS chief midwifery officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, has praised her colleagues around the country who have come up with innovative ways to carry on delivering services in the safest way possible for parents and children alike.
This includes the rapid uptake of video consultations and online clinics to allow expectant families to keep in touch with their midwives from the safety of their own home, but ensuring that women attend essential face to face visits.
Many teams have also rearranged some of their face to face services to ensure they are separated from services which may be dealing with the virus, including in the East of England, midwives in Watford who have partnered with Watford football club to run antenatal and newborn hearing clinics out of the Vicarage Road stadium.
Despite this health leaders are concerned that fear of contracting the virus is leading to some women not attending routine appointments, or not getting in touch with their midwife or maternity team as quickly as they usually would with any concerns.
Targeted messages urging expectant mums to seek support in the way they always would are therefore being launched today as the next stage in the NHS’ Help Us Help You campaign, launched on 25 April by chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.
Professor Dunkley-Bent said: “Anyone who has ever given birth or worked as a midwife will tell you that when a baby is ready to be born, he or she will not wait. So, while the NHS staff have been pulling out all the stops to deal with the greatest public health threat in over a century, our midwives and their colleagues have also continued to work around the clock to deliver more than 150,000 babies, and support hundreds of thousands more new and expectant families through a really uncertain time.”
Frances Bolger, clinical quality director for NHS England and NHS Improvement in the East of England and a qualified midwife, said: “If you’re an expectant new mum, I want you to know that the NHS in the East of England is still here for you and has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of you and your baby, so please, help us help you: if you’re worried about your health or that of your baby, contact your midwife just as you always would, and if you’re asked to come in for a planned or urgent check, it’s vital that you do so.”
Gill Walton, CEO of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Midwives and Maternity Support Workers across the UK have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to ensure the delivery of safe care for women and their babies and I would like to express my gratitude on International Day of the Midwife particularly for their resilience during these challenging times. Naturally there have been changes to how some services are delivered and the decision making around that has been done with safety as a priority.
“The current crisis has seen midwives turn to new and innovative ways to maintain contact and carry out some appointments, including by phone or video call. Of course, for some appointments, including scans, there’s no substitute for attending clinics and hospitals. It’s absolutely vital that women continue to go to their antenatal, postnatal and scan appointments to ensure that they and their babies are staying well. Maternity services remain open for every pregnant woman and if you have any concerns regarding the movements of your baby, if you’ve noticed any bleeding or if you’re struggling with your mental health during this time, please pick up phone and speak to your midwife.”
With the number of new coronavirus cases now falling, the NHS has asked all local maternity services to make direct and regular contact with all women receiving antenatal and postnatal care, explaining how they can continue to receive scheduled and unscheduled care, and emphasising the importance of sharing any concerns with their midwives and other clinicians.
Professor Dunkley-Bent continued: “International Day of the Midwife is a great opportunity to say how exceptionally proud we are of the way maternity teams have risen to this unprecedented challenge, adapting services and adopting new technology to ensure that mums and babies continue to receive the same great care as they always have, in the safest possible way, have the best experience. But we all know that the job is by no means done.
“Some things have had to change temporarily for the safety of mums, babies and staff, such as fewer visitors during labour, and they will change back to normal when it is safe to do so. But some things, like the greater use of online check-ups, are working well and are more convenient for many, and some online care, alongside essential face to face appointments, will be here to stay as part of the NHS’ continually improving offer of more personalised and safe care for mums and babies.”
Angela McConville, Chief Executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said: “Coronavirus has led to increased feelings of anxiety and isolation amongst expectant and new parents. We’ve heard how worried women are about their and their babies’ health, as well as the care and support they will receive before, during and after birth.
“It’s really important that women continue to attend appointments during pregnancy and ask for help if they are worried about themselves or their baby. We’ve heard so many positive stories of how maternity services have adapted to make sure women still receive really excellent care. I would like all expectant parents to hear this message – the NHS is still here for you and it’s vital that you get the checks and support that you need.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “We welcome this important campaign as we know this is a particularly anxious time for pregnant women. Our key message is that antenatal care is essential and if you are invited to come to an appointment at a hospital or a clinic, it is because these are necessary to support your pregnancy, despite the current pandemic. If you have any concerns or worries about your or your baby’s health – including the baby’s movements – seek medical advice immediately.
“Giving birth is a very special time and I would like to thank everyone in our maternity services who is working tirelessly, in challenging circumstances, to continue to provide the safest possible care and support to women and their babies.”