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Ground-breaking antenatal scheme shortlisted for top award

east london and thames river

UEL research team nominated for Royal College of Midwives Annual Midwifery Awards

By Lee Pinkerton 

A pioneering antenatal project that gives expectant mothers in east London the chance to meet in groups and share pregnancy experiences has been shortlisted for a national award. 

The REACH [Research for Equitable Antenatal Care and Health] Pregnancy Programme has been nominated for the 2017 Royal College of Midwives Annual Midwifery Awards in the ‘Reducing Inequalities’ category.

Instead of the traditional system of women seeing any midwife at a hospital antenatal clinic or elsewhere, women on the scheme have care in a ‘Pregnancy Circle’ where they meet up with their midwife and other pregnant women to provide mutual help and support.

Each ‘Circle’ session is facilitated by the same two midwives and involves sharing information, advice and one-to-one health checks.

A feasibility study involving 25 expectant mothers is soon to conclude – the start of a five-year research project being led by researchers at the University of East London (UEL) in conjunction with Barts Health NHS Trust.

It is hoped that the project, which is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) Programme, will lead to improved antenatal care for pregnant women living in areas with high levels of poverty and high ethnic diversity.

Hazira Hussain, one of the mothers who took part in the feasibility study, praised the REACH Pregnancy Circles.

She said, “I’d definitely recommend it because all we’d get if I hadn’t joined the Pregnancy Circle is a 10 to 15-minute slot with a midwife and not be able to share our stories with other women who may be experiencing similar problems.”

Research fellow Dr Penny Haora, who is based at UEL’s Institute for Health and Human Development, said, “It’s a different way of working and organising care. We’ve been developing the model of care, testing out the methods, asking ‘what’s needed to make it happen?’, ‘does it work?’, and ‘is it cost effective?’

“We’re testing it to see if it positively impacts women’s birthing outcomes such as if their babies are born pre-term, how they have their babies, where they have their babies, birthweight and post-natal depression.

“Post-natal depression rates are so high, it’s costing the country billions. The social support we’re creating here is aimed at reducing these negative outcomes.”

Barts Health NHS Trust Midwife Helliner Robinson, who was involved in the feasibility study at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, said, “We see it as transforming services, moving away from the traditional way of working. We have already had interest from maternity services across the country keen to learn from our work. 

“With these women, they support each other and they become friends, but they are still getting high-quality antenatal care and we are still accomplishing all the things that we would normally hope to achieve.”

The REACH research project is led by the University of East London (UEL) and Barts Health NHS Trust in partnership with UCL; City, University of London; Queen Mary University of London and several other NHS Trusts in north-east London and Essex.

The REACH scheme will be tested further with more expectant mothers across east London in 2017.

The Royal College of Midwives Annual Midwifery Awards take place on March 7 at The Brewery, 52 Chiswell St, London EC1Y 4SD.