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    On Saturday July 4th, the day before the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the NHS – we demonstrated, jointly with Manchester Trade Union Council, with Unison, Unite and any other unions involved, with Keep Our NHS Public and with Health Campaigns Together (with PPE and social distancing) against the privatisation of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at St Mary’s Hospital Manchester.

    NEXT EVENT

    VIRTUAL PUBLIC MEETING: No privatisation of Manchester’s fertility service!
    Monday, 20 July 2020 from 19:00-20:30

    Details at the end of this article

    Women in the Labour Movement have been campaigning for at least 100 years on issues of maternal health and the right to choose whether and when to have children, and to use any technological advances that might make those choices easier, or even possible. From 1924 onwards the Women’s Labour League annually and unanimously supported birth control. The men in the Labour and Trade Union Movement were not always so unanimous, or so interested in the subject.

    In 1924 the first Labour Government was elected, and the League bombarded John Wheatley – the first Labour Minister of Health – with demands for improved health care in childbirth and after, and for the provision of free, state birth control clinics. They organised meetings and major demonstrations. They kept reminding him that giving birth had four times the death rate of working in the mines, the most dangerous job for men, and twenty times the likelihood of permanent disability.

    However, it was not until 1974 – another 50 years later – that women achieved the right to free contraception on the NHS, irrespective of age or marital status, by which time I had joined the Labour Party and it was one of the issues I was campaigning for myself, first through the Young Socialists and then the Labour Women’s organisation . Nowadays, men can also get free vasectomies  and, whether for contraception or protection against HIV, free condoms on the NHS, also irrespective of age. None of these successes, in areas where some people like to make moral rather than medical judgements, was easy or straightforward.

    For example, even after the beginning of the decriminalisation of homosexuality for men in 1967, homophobia was still rampant for many years. Thus, more than 20 years later in 1988, Thatcher was able to introduce Clause 28. Roy Trevelion (London SHA member) in Age UK’s Opening Doors London, likens the mental health of many HIV positive men – as a consequence of the AIDS epidemic and ongoing homophobia – to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most gay men who obtained free condoms would have been more likely to get them from organisations like the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester (and similar ones elsewhere), which is registered as a charity and raised money to provide them on that basis. Many gay men would have been more able and less anxious to get their condoms from peer-support charities like this than to risk accidentally outing themselves at the doctor’s or clinic.

    The post World War II economic boom brought rising employment of women and improved living standards, and with increased confidence, women demanded recognition for their contribution to society and the right to control their own lives. These led to the Abortion Act 1967 as well as to Equal Pay (1970) and Sex Discrimination (1975) legislation, and the right to paid maternity leave (1975). The Abortion Act did not give women the right to choose, but made it legal for abortions to be carried out with the approval of two doctors under certain circumstances. In effect it decriminalised what women had been doing for centuries, just as the 1967 Sexual Offences Act (partially) decriminalised homosexual acts between men.

    Making abortion illegal in 1861 had not stopped it, and the 1967 Act did not encourage it: it just made the difference between a woman dying as a consequence, or surviving. (In Romania, abortion was illegal until 1989: but abortions still outnumbered live births – in 1987 by four to one.) I remember providing accommodation to Spanish women coming to the UK for abortions before 1985, when it became legal in Spain, and from the Republic of Ireland before the end of 2018 when it was legalised there.

    However, the 1967 Abortion Act, like the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, was not the end of the matter. There were several attempts to repeal or considerably amend the Abortion Act, such as the White Bill, the Corrie Bill and the Alton Bill, which gave rise in turn to their own protest movements. A very large demonstration against the Corrie Bill was called by the TUC (on the initiative of the Women’s TUC) in 1980, the first time in the world that a major trade union federation had called a demonstration on abortion rights; and another against the Alton Bill in 1988, again with the support of the trade union movement. None of these Private Member’s Bills was successful, but in the end the period during which abortion could be legally carried out was reduced to 24 weeks in 1990, by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

    The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, based on the recommendations of the Committee of the same name, chaired by Mary Warnock, was passed in 1990. When it was originally passed it allowed access to infertility treatment, such as Artificial Insemination or In Vitro Fertilisation, at a cost (in money and patience, especially with IVF) but it also required the women who wanted medical assistance to become mothers, to conform to a very traditional view of motherhood and the family, as reflected in the attitudes of doctors, hospital ethical committees and the Warnock Committee at that time, and laid down in Codes of Practice. These were not medical decisions but social and moral ones.

    For example, to be “suitable” for treatment, a woman had to be living in a stable relationship with a man, and usually had to be able-bodied. Some clinics were reluctant to treat couples where the man was not in work, or the woman not prepared to give up work. Single women and lesbian couples were not usually eligible.  Tory MP David Wilshire made it clear in his speech that he was particularly concerned that “assisted conception” would not produce families dependent on the state, and another amendment was passed to include “the need of a child for a father”.

    Why is Reproductive Technology a Political Issue?

    Thirty years ago I wrote those words in a book called “Whose Choice?”, published at the time of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which became law in 1990. The question was why the Labour Movement should take up issues such as contraception, abortion and treatment of infertility, which were often seen as purely personal matters.

    My answer, on behalf of the (then) Manchester and Liverpool Labour Women’s Councils, was that it was our belief that decisions about whether or not to have children, how many to have, whether or not to have an abortion or use any of the technologies available to overcome or by-pass infertility, or to avoid having a child with disabilities, or to enable those of us who were lesbians to become parents, were all personal decisions to be taken by the individuals concerned, and not by the Church, the State or the Medical Profession.

    And since it is women who give birth to children and even now usually bear the main responsibility for child rearing, these decisions must primarily be theirs. As socialists we argue for women to have the maximum choice possible in the decisions that shape their lives.

    The campaign then – and still is now – was not just for legal rights, but for the practical means to realise them. In order for a working class woman to have the choices already available to richer women, she must have the economic means (a living wage or income), and necessary social arrangements, such as childcare and decent housing, so that she can choose to have a child. It means expanding the NHS, taking back control of the services that have been contracted out to the private sector, resisting any further attempts to privatise parts of the NHS, and running the NHS democratically so that women can have access to free and safe abortion, contraception, artificial insemination and IVF treatment.

    It means carrying out the research to find contraceptives that meet the needs identified by both women and men; research to enable women to have earlier abortions and make them safer; research into causes of infertility and its prevention; research into chromosomal and genetic disorders and their prevention; and research into products and services that would improve the lives of disabled people.

    All these things are entirely reasonable and technically possible; but they raise, in turn, important – essentially political – questions. Who does the research and in whose interests? The rubber goods manufacturers (for decades before the 1960s, clandestine or even illegal): the vulcanisation of rubber revolutionised birth control as well as road transport; but  nowadays research is dominated by the pharmaceutical industry. And of course the research is done to make a profit.

    The drug industry is one of the most research-intensive sectors: but it spends more on marketing and advertising than on research. That was the case when the last official UK Government report on the industry was published (The Sainsbury Report, HMSO, 1967) and it was even more the case, according to the most recent figures (OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators, annual, covering all OECD member countries in the year of publication.)

    Pressure to be first to market can lead to corner-cutting in testing: the most notorious case where this happened was Thalidomide, a tranquilliser that had been declared safe, and was explicitly prescribed, for pregnant women. But it caused major deformities in their babies who were, most notably, born either without some or all of their limbs or with major deformities in them.

    Although it was known by then that some drugs could cause foetal damage, it was not yet specifically a legal requirement to test for them, and the tests were not done. (Only the USA’s Food and Drug Adminstration refused to grant a licence for thalidomide to be prescribed, because the FDA official responsible insisted on having evidence on the foetal effects of the drug, which were not available.) Criticism of government “interference” in the affairs of business is very common in the United States (often framed as interference in the public’s right to choose – except women’s right to choose abortion). Today the FDA is still the butt of criticism of lack of freedom from government interference.

    The Warnock Report, on which the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was based, commented on the lack of research into causes of infertility. This is still the case to some extent, though knowledge in this area has been increasing since the discussions around the Warnock Report and the debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

    But we can be sure that thorough studies, once publicised and popularised, will lead to increased demands for improved health and safety at work; and for the replacement of industrial processes, chemicals and other materials causing infertility; and that responding to these demands would threaten profits. A thorough study would also raise questions about the under-funding of the NHS and the number of diseases that are not adequately diagnosed, or possibly not adequately treated, and which lead to infertility.

    The issue of women’s rights in reproduction is therefore a political and class question: not just because it is mainly working class women and men who are affected by lack of choice and unsafe working conditions, but also because the ability of all women to have a real choice will only be possible as a result of the struggle of working class women and men to change society. This means campaigning on reproductive rights as well as on better housing, higher wages and defence of the NHS. It especially means we must control the resources of society and organise them for need rather than profit.

    St Mary’s Department of Reproductive Medicine (DRM) – Summary of Background Briefing

    St Saint Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, was founded in 1790. Today it provides a wide range of medical services, mainly for women, babies and children. It is highly regarded for teaching and research, and has an internationally recognised Genomics Centre and Department of Reproductive Medicine (DRM). The DRM employs 70 staff and delivers clinical, laboratory and counselling services for about 3000 patients a year. Most of St Mary’s services and research activity is carried out in a building dating from the late 1960s. In 2009 paediatric services were transferred to the newly built Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital on the same site.

    The issue at the centre of the protest is that the DRM is housed in the Old St Mary’s Building (also on the same site) which dates from just after the death of Queen Victoria, and is in desperate need of repair. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) believes that relocation of DRM within the Trust could cost up to £10 million just in capital expenditure, and is talking about privatisation.

    DRM offers a fertility assessment and infertility service. Artificial Insemination and IVF are offered to women who may benefit, on referral by a GP. This can be both NHS funded and private – the latter for women for whom it is clinically appropriate but whose CCG would not fund the necessary cycles of treatment. It offers a fertility preservation service for patients who wish to preserve eggs or sperm while having medical treatment – eg for cancer – that might affect future fertility. DRM offers sperm-testing and specialist treatment for patients whose sperm has been identified as presenting fertility issues; and on the other hand post-vasectomy checks.

    An anonymous or by-arrangement sperm-donation service is also offered to lesbians, and to heterosexual women either without a partner or who cannot conceive with their partner’s sperm for any reason. The Department also offers a reproductive endocrinology service which focuses on the way in which hormones affect fertility; and specialist counselling to any of the patients using their services. DRM runs the national proficiency scheme involving distribution to other reproductive medicine labs across the country and checks that the results are consistent. Finally, the Department makes a significant contribution to fertility research in conjunction with the University of Manchester.

    In early March the Trust briefed all service staff that they would undertake a 12 month options appraisal exercise to identify whether the service should remain within the Trust or be re-commissioned elsewhere. (Since the pandemic this has been put back.) The unions argue:

    • that there would be significant capital costs involved in privatising the service, which would have to be borne by the hospital (eg to store embryos – the store would need to remain on the site and continue to be run, inspected and managed by MFT, because the cost of doing otherwise would be prohibitive).
    • that the service is unique in Greater Manchester, and to a large extent in the entire North West Region.
    • It has significant associated capital and operational costs so other NHS trusts are likely to be reluctant to bid to host the service.
    • The private sector may offer an option that appears to be cheaper, but offers a far lower level of service than that currently provided at St Mary’s – but the NHS might be obliged to accept the private bid, because it is lower.

    The unions are also concerned about the impact of any potential future privatisation of the service for many reasons, including:

    • St Mary’s offers specialist care to a number of people with Protected Characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, which might not be available under private sector provision.
    • The services offered by St Mary’s are highly specialised – Trafford CCG ring-fenced them on behalf of all the CCGs in Greater Manchester, not requiring them to participate in an IVF procurement exercise in 2019 for this reason.
    • The andrology service works with eg men with Cystic Fibrosis who are often infertile and need surgery if they wish to have a chance of creating a family, and another specialist service involving the only UK-based partnership with the long established FAIRFAX cryo-spermbank.
    • The National External Quality Assessment Scheme for reproductive medicine is currently based in the DRM laboratories. If DRM was closed or moved, this would need a new home, too.
    • The kind of research investment and relationship with academic institutions that St Mary’s has would not be replicated in private sector provision where profits have to be made.
    • Despite assurances from MFT, the unions believe that the terms and conditions of the staff in the private sector, if they had to move and could do so, would not be as good as those in the NHS under the Agenda for Change national pay system.
    • In other areas where NHS services have been privatised, there has often been an erosion of terms and conditions, and of collective bargaining, either through attrition over time or an aggressive stance by employers. Unions believe that this is a significant risk.
    • The cost to fee-paying patients is less than the alternative provision in the private sector, and for NHS patients, the NHS pays via CCGs around £4000 per IVF cycle at St Mary’s, but significantly more (£5-6,000) to private providers per cycle.
    • The DRM is part of St Mary’s and both are located on the MFT Oxford Road Campus next to the University of Manchester. Patients with co-morbidities and other conditions which may have an impact on their fertility and associated treatments, can benefit from the expertise and clinical care available within MFT close to their fertility treatment. At the same time, staff can benefit from the close proximity of other specialisms which may be relevant to a patient’s ongoing care.

    The Next Stage in the Campaign to Save St Mary’s

    There will be a public meeting (via internet) hosted by Keep Our NHS Public as below. Please join us via Greater Manchester Keep Our NHS Public (GM KONP)’s Facebook page.

    PUBLIC MEETING: No privatisation of Manchester’s fertility service!
    Monday, 20 July 2020 from 19:00-20:30

    https://www.facebook.com/events/280845443022548/

    The fertility service provided by the Department of Reproductive Medicine at St Mary’s hospital, Manchester, faces privatisation. According to reports, Manchester Foundation Trust announced earlier this year that the service would go over to a private company in 2021. This would be a disaster for the service and future patients.

    Now the Trust has begun an “options appraisal” over the future of the service. We insist that the #1 option must be keeping it public and keeping it where it is. We demand a public consultation so the people of Manchester have their say.

    Join our online public meeting to hear about the situation and how we can campaign to win. There will be discussion after the speakers, who are:

    Denise Andrews, Unison union rep, DRM
    Liz Holland, Unite the Union branch secretary, MFT
    James Bull, Unison union regional officer

    Pia Feig, a feminist perspective
    Chaired by Caroline Bedale, Greater Manchester Keep Our NHS Public and Greater Manchester Socialist Health Association.

    This will be a Facebook Live event broadcast through the event page.

    Mailing address for

    Keep Our NHS Public Greater Manchester

    c/o KONP national, Unit 12-13 Springfield House 5 Tyssen Street

    LondonE8 2LY

    United Kingdom

    Vivien Walsh (Greater Manchester SHA)

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    The May 2020 issue of the Sexual Health, Reproductive Health & HIV Policy eBulletin is out today. It contains updates on the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    In the eFeature, Dame Inga Beale, Chair of the HIV Commission, talks about her work to meet the UK’s target of no new HIV transmissions by 2030 despite the significant whole system and personal challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlights the value of continued engagement with the Commission as it pushes ahead with further evidence gathering.

    Meanwhile, this month’s roundup brings together developing COVID-19 guidance and resources that have been produced by sector organisations, including the FSRH, BHIVA, BASHH and the RCOG.

    You can see the eBulletin here: http://gourl.gr/ck6i

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    The attached advice from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health provides details about the changes to provision of sexual and reproductive healthcare during COVID-19. It includes what type of care women can expect and how to get it – for example, how to get normal contraception prescriptions or treatment during the pandemic.  

    A link to the document is provided below, and a copy is also attached.

    FSRH has launched a comprehensive advice document for women seeking sexual and reproductive healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The advice aims to inform and empower women to make the best choices for their sexual and reproductive health. It details the changes to provision of sexual and reproductive healthcare during COVID-19, including what type of care women can expect to access and how they can access it.

    FSRH – COVID advice-for-women-seeking-contraception-and-srh-during-covid-by-fsrh

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    Our response to Government guidance on COVID and self-isolation
    Our Senior Legal Officer, Katie Wood, has compiled initial guidance on COVID and pregnant women’s rights at work in light of the Government guidance. It covers health and safety, working from home, sick pay, maternity leave and pay, dismissal and redundancy. Please read and share the blog.We have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, about the Government guidance on social distancing and vulnerable adults, including pregnant women. The guidance to self-isolate has clear implications for the income of pregnant women in the workforce during their pregnancy and maternity leave, and for retention of their job. We urge ministers to make a clear public statement that the dismissal of a pregnant woman simply for self-isolating, in line with the Government’s advice, would amount to unlawful pregnancy discrimination. See our letter here and help us share it and demand immediate response from the Government.We are preparing a list of FAQs on COVID, maternity and employment rights. We shall release it as soon as it is ready. Please check our website for regular updates.

     

    Our advice lines are open
    We provide free legal advice on maternity and employment rights to pregnant women and new parents and will carry on throughout this crisis. Please note that receive a huge number of calls under normal circumstances, we are experiencing a spike at the moment. Please check our information sheets first, they cover a comprehensive range of questions.Our National Maternity Rights Advice Line is 0808 802 0029. It is open all weekdays from 10 am to 1 pm for all callers who live outside London.For London residents, please call our London Maternity Rights Advice Line 0808 802 0057, open all weekdays except Wednesdays from 10 am to 1 pm.For those with questions about NHS charging for maternity care, our Maternity Care Access Advice Service is 0808 800 0041, open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays 10 am to 12 noon.

    Please share this information with your networks and direct your contacts to the right advice line number. If you are unable to get through, please be patient. This is an unprecendented situation and we have limited capacity. We are doing our best and we shall deal with all the calls we can handle.

    Posted by Jean Smith on behalf of Maternity Action.

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    Introduction

    This policy statement is intended to apply to all parts of the UK. The first 1000 days of life (from conception) are crucial for the long term health and wellbeing of families and society in general. The SHA wants adequate NHS, fully funded, woman-centred maternity care, for all women, potential parents, partners and their family/support networks (including all migrant women).  This care is from pre-conception to 6 weeks after birth and beyond.  This is because care needs to focus on long term outcomes as the evidence is that the environment in the uterus and after birth can be detrimental to individuals’ health throughout their lives. It needs to avoid the ‘business’ approach that concentrates on short term targets. To achieve this, the following is necessary:

    Overall principles

    1. To address maternal, paternal and child poverty in order to improve outcomes and to relieve stress related damage, good nutrition should be accessible to all, before, during and after pregnancy. To achieve this, public health measures, which make the healthy choice the easier choice, should be developed.
    2. The voices of women, potential parents and their support networks should be heard and listened to at all the stages of planning and evaluation of maternity services.
    3. There should be high quality physical and mental health care appropriate in a diverse society. There should be a proportionate universalist approach to give every child the best start in life. This includes migrant women and their babies.
    4. Pre-pregnancy care must be available to all to achieve the healthiest pregnancy possible. It should cover the very harmful factors in the wider and personal environment, such as tobacco, alcohol and substance misuse, air and industrial pollution, and domestic abuse, which can have devastating consequences on babies from conception and throughout their lives. Improvements are required to ensure the quality and consistency of health and safety in the workplace for pregnant women and potential fathers.
    5. Adequate time and funding for maternity leave, maternity pay, paternity leave and pay and parental leave should be available to all. Partners of pregnant women should have a legal right to take time off in the event of problems developing during the pregnancy.  Pregnant women and new mothers in education at the time of birth, and all those caring for young babies, must be supported to ensure that they are not denied educational opportunities.

    Specific stages of care

    1. Antenatal care and education should be accessible to women and potential parents (and their families) from all backgrounds and cultures. Those working should have the right to paid leave to attend. Such education can be provided one to one or within groups.  The groups can be women only or mixed or with special provision for marginalised groups as deemed appropriate in local areas.  Collaboration between midwives and health visitors (and others as appropriate) to facilitate this education is ideal.
    2. All parents should have access to parenting skills support, particularly to prevent and mitigate adverse childhood experiences. The roll out of the Flying Start scheme in Wales is a good development, in contrast with the huge cuts to Sure Start schemes in England.
    3. All care should aim for a safe, respectful and positive birth experience for all women. Women should have a fully resourced, real choice of place of birth (home, midwifery or obstetric unit) having been fully informed about how these will meet their individual medical and personal needs. To achieve this, home birth should be backed up when there is an emergency with adequate pre hospital care (provided by community-based midwives and paramedics specifically educated on maternity care).  Such pre hospital care should enable safe, timely and appropriate transfer to hospital obstetric and neonatal paediatric services.  Midwife–led units should be available to women, and hospital based care should respect and support women’s decisions.
    4. Continuity of care from midwives (and other relevant health care professionals) is crucial. All women should have a named midwife, who works as part of a community-based team of midwives, and who coordinates care with others, such as obstetricians, health visitors, GPs, physiotherapists, and dietitians, as necessary. Ideally there should be continuity of carer throughout the antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal periods. All women should have one to one care during established labour.
    5. Women and their partners, families/support networks should be supported emotionally and physically in the early days after birth. There needs to be adequate and realistic help with breast feeding, including midwifery, health visitor and peer support. Postnatal education and support should be available, via groups or on a one to one basis, ideally continuing educational provision stated during pregnancy.
    6. Community based mental health services need to be available to support women (collaborating with midwives, GPs and health visitors), as well as sufficient mother and baby inpatient psychiatric provision.
    7. There should be full funding of neonatal special and intensive (levels 2 and 3) care.

    Staffing

    1. More staff should be recruited to end the use of agency staff. This includes keeping staff from EU countries and making them very welcome. NHS staff should be actively supported and valued in order to relieve work-related stress and burnout and prevent attrition, so that in turn they are able to give the best quality care.  The culture of risk, fear and blame should be resolved.

    Research and education

    1. Funding for research into maternity care, preterm birth, still birth, neonatal and perinatal mortality and birth injuries should be increased.
    2. Investment is required in the education of healthcare professional students involved in maternity care. These students should receive non means tested NHS bursaries while being educated. Where appropriate there should be joint education between students such as midwives, paramedics, health visitors and doctors (potential future GPs, obstetricians and paediatricians) both before and after qualification. The latter should not have to be funded by the clinicians themselves.

    (References to back up the recommendations of this policy are available on request)

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    Make the UK the safest place world to have a baby!

    Why is the UK still not in the top ten countries for infant mortality and for maternal deaths? Why? We are a rich country. We have an established high-quality health service. Healthcare is supposed to be accessible to all. How come babies and mothers die or are badly hurt at birth? How come Black and Ethnic minority babies suffer most? Why do poor areas have worse outcomes than wealthy areas? Why is infant mortality rising? (The infant mortality rate is the number of children that die under one year of age in a given year, per 1,000 live births. The neonatal mortality rate is the number of children that die under 28 days of age in a given year, per 1,000 live births. These are both common measures of health care quality, but they are also influenced by social, economic and environmental factors). Are there fundamental problems with core policy documents like the maternity review “Better births”? These are painful questions.

    Our campaign wants real improvements for mothers and babies. This posting is not intended as a clinical paper, it is a discussion amongst activists and concerned citizens about where the problems lie. A key set of participants in this discussion are mothers who have given birth, including those who have lost babies, grandmothers and other birth partners, and women who could not conceive.

    Our campaign published our Maternity Manifesto during the election but though well shared on Facebook, it did not get into any parties’ manifesto.

    We also called a national meeting on issues in maternity care.

    What then are the factors that result in UK outcomes at birth worse than other advanced countries?

    The answers include shortage of NHS funding, staffing shortages, poor management in some hospitals, staff in fear of speaking out, some policies and procedures, disrespect towards the women carrying the baby, and, as cited in the East Kent enquiry, a lack of practical understanding by staff and by mums of the need to “count the kicks” in the latter part of pregnancy. The introduction of charges for migrant women has also caused deaths. NHS material seems to centre the cause on mothers who smoke, or who are overweight. (Now smoking in pregnancy is plain stupid, it really is, and most mums would not do so if they were not addicted. Don’t do it!). However, other countries, Greece for example, who smoke more, have better outcomes in pregnancy than does the UK. Wider problems like obesity and diabetes, and even women giving birth older, are mentioned in the literature about this. Again, the age of the mother as a factor, but this is only partly true. Giving birth older is often safer than giving birth too young. Globally it is most often young girls who die in childbirth.

    Answers may lie in the financially and emotionally vulnerable place that pregnant women occupy in our society, including poverty, violence and stress. Poverty and inequality are factors in infant mortality; “The sustained and unprecedented rise in infant mortality in England from 2014 to 2017 was not experienced evenly across the population. In the most deprived local authorities, the previously declining trend in infant mortality reversed and mortality rose, leading to an additional 24 infant deaths per 100 000 live births per year (95% CI 6 to 42), relative to the previous trend. There was no significant change from the pre-existing trend in the most affluent local authorities. As a result, inequalities in infant mortality increased, with the gap between the most and the least deprived local authority areas widening by 52 deaths per 100 000 births (95% CI 36 to 68). Overall from 2014 to 2017, there were a total of 572 excess infant deaths (95% CI 200 to 944) compared with what would have been expected based on historical trends. We estimated that each 1% increase in child poverty was significantly associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100 000 live births (95% CI 2.4 to 9.2). The findings suggest that about a third of the increases in infant mortality between 2014 and 2017 can be attributed to rising child poverty (172 deaths, 95% CI 74 to 266).” (Our bold for emphasis).

    The UK is a rich advanced country, with a long history of universal healthcare but we have rising infant mortality. “Rising infant mortality is unusual in high-income countries, and international data show that infant mortality has continued to decline in most rich countries in recent years” and “In the most deprived local authorities, the previously declining trend in infant mortality reversed and mortality rose, leading to an additional 24 infant deaths per 100,000 live births per year, relative to the previous trend“.

    Poverty is not the sole cause of high Infant Mortality though, Cuba has good outcomes equal to the UK for infant mortality. Cuba is very poor indeed and the UK is one of the wealthiest economies (sadly Cuba does less well on maternal deaths).  

    Research shows out of 700,000 births a year in England and Wales, around 5,000 babies are stillborn or die before they are a month old”. 5,000 babies each year. There have been major news stories about baby deaths in many hospitals, notably in ShropshireEast Kent and Morecombe Bay.

    Maternal deaths. The UK is not in the top ten countries with the lowest infant mortality rate, neither is it the safest place to give birth. In 2015-17“209 women died during or up to six weeks after pregnancy, from causes associated with their pregnancy, among 2,280,451 women giving birth in the UK. 9.2 women per 100,000 died during pregnancy or up to six weeks after childbirth or the end of pregnancy.” In 2016 The UK ranked 24th in the world in Save the Children’s Mothers’ Index and Country Ranking Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovenia, Portugal, New Zealand, Israel, Greece, Canada, Luxembourg, Ireland, and France, all did better than the UK. The situation in some other countries is massively worse than here but that is no excuse. But these baby and mothers’ deaths must stop. We cannot sit back and let these deaths continue.

    Let’s be clear, the situation for women in pregnancy and childbirth is massively better than before the NHS, and is head and shoulders better than in the USA today. But maternal mortality is an issue here in the UK, and a huge issue in poorer countries, especially where women give birth without a trained professional being in attendance. Quite rightly professionals and campaigners in the UK participate in international endeavours to improve this situation. The NHS should be training and sending midwives to those countries, instead, it is recruiting midwives from poorer countries. In Europe we have cuts in healthcare through Austerity; in the global south, the same concept of cutting public services to the bone is called Restructuring.

    Why is the UK, a rich country with (almost) universal health care not doing better by its mothers and babies? Look at just this case and see the problems in the provision of maternity care;

    Archie Batten

    Archie Batten died on 1 September 2019, shortly after birth.

    When his mother called the hospital to say she was in labour, she was told the QEQM maternity unit was closed and she should drive herself to the trust’s other hospital, the William Harvey in Ashford, about 38 miles away.

    This was not feasible and midwives were sent to her home but struggled to deliver the baby and she was transferred by ambulance to QEQM where her son died. Archie’s inquest is scheduled for March. (BBC).

    We know that temporarily “closing” maternity units because they are full is a common occurrence. Women then have to go to a different hospital. Induction of labour can be halted because the unit is full. It is not a pleasant situation for mothers. Some maternity units have closed permanently, meaning mothers have to travel further for treatment, at a time when the ambulance service is under great strain (though being in labour is not considered an emergency for the ambulance service!).

    Shortage of Midwives and consequent overwork for the existing staff. The UK has a shortage of three thousand five hundred midwives. The midwife workforce is skewed towards older midwives who will retire soon.

    Gill Walton, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives said “We know trusts are facing huge pressures to save money demanded by the government, but this cannot be at the expense of safety. We remain 3,500 midwives short in England and if some maternity units regularly have to close their doors it suggests there is an underlying problem around capacity staffing levels.

    Training midwives is not just about recruiting new starters to university courses. There need to be sufficient training places in the Hospitals who are already working flat out, leaving little time for mentoring of students, as well as places in the Universities. Alison Edwards, senior lecturer in midwifery at Birmingham City University, who says: ‘It isn’t as simple as recruiting thousands more students as this requires the infrastructure to support it.

    ‘You need more tutors, more on-site resources and, perhaps more importantly, more mentors and capacity in placement areas – which is currently under immense strain.’ 

    One student midwife wrote about her experiences in this letter, where she described very hard work without either pay or good quality mentoring.

    The government and the NHS call for Continuity Care from Midwives. This means the same midwife or small team of midwives cares for the mother through her pregnancy, birth and postnatal period. We too believe this would be wonderful if it were possible. It is however impossible with the existing ratio of midwives to mothers. Providing continuity of care to the most vulnerable mothers is a good step. NICE have reduced this to the idea of each woman having a named midwife. One to One a private midwife company claimed to provide this but was unable to continue trading, and went bust leaving the NHS to pick up the pieces.

    Nationally the NHS is underfunded and looks set to continue so. Much of the problem comes from a long period of underfunding. We spend less than 9.8 per cent of GDP on health. Switzerland, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Denmark. Belgium Austria Norway and the Netherlands all spend more. That places the UK 13th in the list of high spenders on health care. The US spends 16.9 %. (although a lot of that money is diverted from patient care to the big corporations and insurance companies). The NHS was the most cost-efficient health care service in the world.

    Underfunding causes staff shortages. Some errors at birth come from staff being overworked and making mistakes.

    Some, our campaign believes, flow from fundamental flaws in government policy such as in the Maternity Review, where the pressure is on staff not to intervene in labour.

     Listen to the Mother. Some of the deaths are from women not being heeded in pregnancy and childbirth. This is backed up in reports from mothers, including some quoted in the big reviews mentioned above. However, overworked and tired staff who know labour like the back of their hand can easily stop heeding an inexperienced mother.

    Poverty kills mothers and babies. As we said above, some deaths, poor baby health, and injuries come from growing maternal poverty and ill-health. Low-income families find it hard to afford good food. Food poverty affects a staggering number of children. The charity UNICEF estimates that “2.5m British children, or 19%, now live in food-insecure households. This means that there are times when their family doesn’t have enough money to acquire enough food, or they cannot buy the full variety of foods needed for a healthy diet. In addition, 10% of these children are also classified as living in severe food insecurity (the European average is 4%) and as a result, are set to experience adverse health.”

    Studies show that;

    The Independent inquiry into inequalities in health (Acheson 1998) found that a child’s long term health was related to the nutrition and physique of his/her mother. Infants whose mothers were obese had a greater risk of subsequent coronary heart disease. Low birth weight (under 2500 g) was associated with increased risk of death in infancy and with increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and hypertension in later life. Accordingly, the Inquiry recommended, ‘improving the health and nutrition of women of childbearing age and their children, with priority given to the elimination of food poverty and the reduction of obesity’. (NICE )

    A significant number of deaths of new mothers come from mental health issues that spiral out of control. Some of these will be newly developed conditions and some existing conditions made worse by pregnancy and childbirth. Mothers family and professionals must all be on the alert and intervene early. There are good ways to treat mental health in pregnancy.

    Reducing the social and economic stresses around pregnancy would also help reduce the deaths and suffering

    When Birth goes wrong it can be a dreadful experience for everyone involved. In most cases, the panic button brings in a well-drilled team of experts who can solve nearly every problem and do it calmly. At other times, it is dreadful, as described in the coverage of the birth and death of baby Harry Richford. Harry Richford was born at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate in 2017 but died a week later. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-51097200

    Sands, the baby death charity explains that there are many causes of babies dying before birth. Crucially important is that mothers are heeded when they are concerned and that everyone Counts the Kicks

     

    Maternity is not the only area of the NHS that suffers. There have been serious mistakes in NHS planning including closing far too many beds. The NHS closed 17,000 beds and now is working beyond safe bed occupancy. There are 100,000 staff vacancies. Waiting times in A and E are dreadful, as are waiting times for cancer treatment. NHS managers and the Government have taken the NHS far from the Bevan model of healthcare (for history read this).

    Press coverage. How does the press cover the NHS, and baby deaths? There are very real problems in the NHS and maternity care but the coverage in the press of these problems seems to switch on and off in strange ways, often to suit Conservative Party political requirements. The NHS and the Government are masters of propaganda and news manipulation. The public needs to learn to judge the news and to look both for actual problems and look out for bullshit and manipulation. Why was news of the arrest of the nurse from the Countess of Chester hospital headlines on the 70th Anniversary of the NHS? Why was the news of the understaffing there not given similar nationwide publicity? Why have we heard little or nothing since?

    If the government can switch the blame to the professionals in the NHS (but not their mates the high admin of the NHS), then they seem to be happy to publicise the problems. In other cases, problems are swept under the carpet.

    Professionals expect to (and do) take responsibility for their own actions. Mistakes will be made. It is impossible to go through life without some mistakes. When we are dealing with life and death mistakes can be catastrophic, even where there is no ill intent.

    Malicious action is rare.   There are the terrible cases of serial murderer Harold Shipman, and the convicted surgeon Ian Paterson who falsely told women, they had breast cancer and operated on them unnecessarily. The hierarchical system in the NHS and the lack of regulation in private hospital, which was described as “dysfunctional at almost every level” allowed that harmWe have not found such a case in maternity.

    Unintentional bad practice, however, has also harmed babies. No one went to work intending to harm in the events publicised in the Morecombe Bay Enquiry into the deaths of 11 babies and one mother. It was said that “The prime responsibility for ensuring the safety of clinical services rests with the clinicians who provide them, and those associated with the unit failed to discharge this duty over a prolonged period. The prime responsibility for ensuring that they provide safe services and that the warning signs of departure from standards are picked up and acted upon lies with the Trust, the body statutorily responsible for those services.”

    The Enquiry described what happens like this “In the maternity services at Furness General Hospital, this ‘drift’ involved a particularly dangerous combination of declining clinical skills and knowledge, a drive to achieve normal childbirth ‘whatever the cost’ and a reckless approach to detecting and managing mothers and babies at higher risk.”

    The Furness General Hospital was pushing for Foundation Trust status at the time and was not exercising the necessary supervision.

    “Maternity care is almost unique amongst NHS services: the majority of those using it are not ill but going through a sequence of normal physiological changes that usually culminate in two healthy individuals. In consequence, the safety of maternity care depends crucially on maintaining vigilance for early warning of any departure from normality and on taking the right, timely action when it is detected. The corollary is that, if those standards are not met, it may be some time before one or more adverse events occur; given their relative scarcity in maternity care, it is vital that every such occurrence is examined to see why it happened.

    So, many factors come into play in such incidents of harm to mother and baby. Professionals too can be emotionally wrecked by tragedy.

    Huge personal and professional lessons can be learned from a detailed review of cases where mistakes are made. There is a whole literature about learning from mistakes. The worst such incidents are referred to as Never Events. This is just one article about such errors but there is a whole field of research devoted to it. Serious Mistake Reviews often happen at the end of shifts, and in the worst cases, may lead to long public enquiries.

    NHS as a research organisation One of the great virtues of the NHS is the research base it offers professionals. What happens in the NHS which covers 62 million people is studied, evaluated, and researched. This is invaluable to staff and above all to patients. Sadly this research is also of interest to big business especially to those who sell health insurance and to the big corporations who have their ‘snouts’ in the NHS ‘trough’. Research for the common good is clearly different from research to make money. We see that regularly in big pharma. Cheap effective medicines do not make money for the companies. Yet the government is giving away our medical data to companies to make a profit.

    There are also “errors” that happen when everyone is following accepted procedures and protocols; “untoward events, complications, and mishaps that resulted from acceptable diagnostic or therapeutic practice”. Procedures within the NHS can be robust and well researched, and problems still occur.

    https://www.mamaacademy.org.uk/news/mbrrace-saving-lives-improving-mothers-care-2019/

    Research matters. Only by studying outcomes can these errors be revealed. A classic example is the once customary practice of episiotomy, cutting a woman to prevent tears to the perineal skin in childbirth, which is now no longer used except in an emergency. Research both formal and informal changed that practice. As another example of such research, Liverpool Women’s hospital has been involved in research about the benefits of leaving the baby attached by the cord if they are born unwell. NHS staff and other health professionals, academics and pressure groups are working hard to improve outcomes for mothers and babies. Each mothers death is reviewed in the MBRRACE-UK report

    https://mamadoc.co.uk/the-maternal-mortality-report-we-should-all-learn-from/

    Never again. The tragedy of the death of a mother and or baby is felt by that whole extended family. Most families want to know it will never happen again. Cover-ups and lies mean it will happen again, so brutal honesty is needed.

     

    The aftermath of medical treatment or neglect which causes real harm is complex. Whether the outcome is death, life long impairment, or long term physical and mental health issues, these are very significant events for all concerned.

    Campaigners in Liverpool campaign for SEN funding to be returned. 2019

    If a baby is born with life-changing impairments, the baby is left facing catastrophic difficulties and the mother and family can face major heartbreak and hardship. The huge love we have for our kids (may it long continue), whatever their issues, does not prevent the financial, housing and employment issues families with disabled children face. Nor does it guarantee the best educational opportunities, SEN is being battered by cuts. but parents and teachers are fighting back.

     

    The cost of financial “compensation” from an injury to a newborn is huge because it is life long. The cost of this “compensation” used to be carried by the government but the system changed to make hospitals “buy” insurance from a government body which is set up like an insurance company. The cost to the hospital is charged on the basis or earlier claims, like car insurance. Obstetrics make the highest claims of any section of the NHS.

    Liverpool Women’s Hospital had a huge case (not about babies) some years ago, arising from a surgeon who left many women damaged after incontinence operations. Their total bill, over 5 years, according to the Echo, was £58.8 million. “The NHS trust has been forced to pay out £58.8m in the last five years for both recent and historic negligence cases.

    The limited work we do, as a campaign, in holding the hospital to account, leads us to believe lessons have been learned by the hospital. However, in every hospital, there are pressures which could lead to problems. These pressures include financial and organisational, problems of management ethos, and the potential for bullying, the distrust by the staff of their management, and disrespect for whistleblowers.

    The NHS has gone through years of reorganisation after reorganisation. In that time the financial and government pressure has been to complete the re-organisation, or face catastrophic consequences so very many hours of admin and senior doctor time has been wasted on this process. That time could have been focussing on saving babies.

    At STP and national level, there are other problems. The NHS is intensely political. There are deep structural problems. (We believe the NHS should return to the Bevan Model of health care)

    The NHS is not only deprived of adequate funding, but it has also been forced to implement many market-based changes, including the internal market, outsourcing and commissions of services to for-profit companies. These market-based structures are expensive.

    The NHS has also seen dire staff shortages resulting from stupid decisions like removing bursaries, not training enough doctors and the hostile environment to migrant staff.

    There are moral and financial issues in all cases of such errors. The hurt to the babies is our priority.

    Baby deaths and severe injury at birth have complex roots. Though what happens in the hospital is crucial, it is not just what happens in the hospitals that matter. The stress, poverty and anxiety many mothers endure during pregnancy do sometimes affect the outcomes for the child. Many women are still sacked for being pregnant but families can rarely cope with just one wage (do fight back against sacking pregnant women!). See Maternity Action for details. Both mums and midwives can call Maternity Action for advice.

    Low pay or the dreaded universal credit can make food heating and rent all too expensive. This can lead to food poverty. Women do not yet have real equal pay but mothers have the worst pay of all  Benefits are no longer allowed for a third child. even though most claimants are working. Whether parents are working or not, every child has a right to food and shelter, be they first or 10th child. The child gets no choice!

    Not every pregnant woman is in a stable caring relationship. Housing, especially private renting, becomes more difficult when women are pregnant. Who can forget the story of the homeless woman giving birth to twins in the street? Pregnancy is often the time when domestic violence is inflicted on a woman but it is the time when women are least able to walk away. Poverty kills babies too.

    Please join us in campaigning for better outcomes for all mothers and babies in the NHS and across the globe. We want this to start a discussion, so please send us your views. and information

     

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    Surveys of members of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and the British HIV Association (BHIVA) provide new evidence of pressure on over stretched sexual health services and a sector at ‘breaking point’

     

    Access to sexual health and HIV services has been dramatically reduced as a result of changes to the funding and organisation of sexual health services since 2013, according to the medical professionals providing care. Over half (54%) of respondents to a survey of members of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) reported decreases in the overall level of service access to patients over the past year, with a further 16 per cent saying that access had significantly decreased. In a parallel survey of members of the British HIV Association (BHIVA), three quarters (76%) of respondents said that care delivered to patients in their HIV service had worsened.

    With Public Health England (PHE) data showing a 13 per cent increase in attendance of sexual health services between 2013 and 2017 (PHE, June 2018,) it is not surprising that nearly 80 per cent of BASHH respondents (79%) said that they had seen an increased demand for services in the past 12 months. Budgetary pressure means that this demand cannot always be met: more patients are now either turned away or redirected to other parts of the health system.  Six in ten (63%) per cent of BASHH respondents said that they had to turn away patients each week, with 19 per cent saying that they were having to turn away more than 50 patients on a weekly basis. While most were offered the next available appointment, 13 per cent said that patients were referred to another sexual health provider and four per cent that they were redirected to primary care. Clinicians responding to the survey report that many of the patients who are being turned away have symptoms of potential infection.

     

    Reduction in prevention, cytology and mental health services

    Both surveys revealed significant reductions in services such as the delivery of HIV prevention activities, outreach to vulnerable populations, cervical cytology and psychosexual health services. Three quarters of BHIVA members (75%) said that there had been an impact on access to HIV prevention advice and condoms, with 63 per cent saying access had been reduced; 44 per cent of BASHH members said that HIV prevention services had decreased. Almost half (47%) of BASHH members reported reductions in the provision of cervical cytology functions, reflected by BHIVA members, who also said that cervical screening had been halved (reduced access reported by 49.5%).  This is of particular concern in the context of a fall in national cervical screening coverage and the higher risk of HPV related cancer in women with HIV.

    More than 40 per cent (42%) of BASHH respondents reported reduced provision of psychosexual health care, mirrored by a similar number (41%) of BHIVA members, who said that access to psychology input for HIV related mental health problems had been reduced. This is despite the higher risk of mental health issues the HIV population faces. Nearly half of BASHH members (47%) also said that care for vulnerable populations had reduced.

     

    STI screening and HIV testing

    More than 40 per cent (41%) of BHIVA members said that access to sexual health screening had been reduced, despite HIV positive people being at greater overall risk of sexually transmitted infections.  BASHH members gave a mixed response, with 29 per cent of respondents reporting reductions in STI testing in the past year and 27 per cent increased testing.  The BASHH response regarding HIV testing was similarly mixed, with 21 per cent saying there was a decrease and 26 per cent an increase.

    The BHIVA survey showed that it is becoming more difficult for people to test for HIV, with 35 per cent of respondents reporting that there is now reduced access to testing in their own location.  Although 58 per cent of services offered outreach testing, with a quarter of respondents (26%) saying that it was offered locally in another service, more than half (52%) said access to testing in outreach settings was also reduced.  Almost half (47%) of BASHH respondents reported increases in access to online testing in the last 12 months, but it is not yet available in all locations. Although some respondents were optimistic about its role in helping to manage the growing demand for services, others expressed concerns about poor implementation, and suggested it was taking the focus away from face-to-face services.

    Funding cuts have also drastically reduced the output of third sector organisations, such as charities and community groups, who have traditionally helped to plug gaps in services with HIV testing, advice and peer support. Nearly 40 per cent of BHIVA respondents said that peer support was no longer offered by their service, with 28 per cent of those that still do saying access to it had been reduced. 70 per cent said that overall the remaining third sector support had worsened, with services stripped back to basics or simply closed down completely.

     

    PrEP availability and reproductive health

    The roll-out of the PrEP programme through the IMPACT trial has led to increased availability.   Over 70 per cent (71%) of BHIVA respondents said that PrEP is now either available from their service or offered locally by another service (17%) and over 70 per cent (74%) of BASHH respondents reported increased delivery. However, provision remains mixed with 28 per cent of BHIVA respondents saying access is improving, 25 per cent saying it had been reduced, and 11 per cent saying PrEP was not currently on offer locally.

    At the same time almost a third (32%) of BASHH respondents reported decreased provision of reproductive health and contraception and a similar percentage (34%) of BHIVA respondents also reported reduced access to these services.

     

    Impact of separation of HIV and GUM on staff and services

    Changes since 2013 have in many areas led to previously fully integrated clinics that were able to provide a range of services from a single location now being divided between differently funded suppliers.  Patients, particularly people living with HIV, may not be willing or able to travel elsewhere and staff may not be able to access records from other services.

    Funding cuts have led to staff not being replaced with a knock-on effect to those remaining and to the level of service they can offer. For example, the loss of Health Advisers and nursing staff can limit support for patients.  More than a quarter (27%) of BHIVA respondents reported that access to partner notification has been affected, yet this is a key method of increasing testing of people at a higher risk of HIV transmission.  Although the majority of services (64%) still maintain counselling for the newly diagnosed, close to 30 per cent said that access is reduced.

    Staff morale has been affected, with more than 80 per cent (81%) of BASHH survey respondents saying that staff morale had decreased in the last year, with almost half (49%) reporting it had greatly decreased.  Respondents to both surveys cited the damaging impact sustained budget cuts were having on staff, as well as the pressures and stresses experienced by retendering, restructuring and the loss of experienced colleagues. Some describe the situation as being “at breaking point” and nearly all are worried about the future:  more than 90 per cent (92%) of BASHH respondents said that they were worried, or extremely worried, about the future delivery of sexual health care in England.

     

    Commented BASHH President, Dr Olwen Williams: “Providing high-quality free and open-access care for all those that need it has been the bedrock of sexual health in this country for over a century. Whilst we are doing our utmost to maintain standards in the face of record demand and dramatic increases in infections, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea in recent years, these surveys clearly show that continued cuts to funding are taking their toll. Current levels of sexual health funding are quite simply not sustainable and the pressures they are generating are having a seriously detrimental impact on the morale and wellbeing of staff. Without increased support to match the huge growth in demand, the consequences will likely be disastrous for individuals and our public health as a whole.”

    Added BHIVA Chair, Professor Chloe Orkin:“Despite the stated ambition of policy makers to reduce health inequalities this will not be possible without robustly funded, sustainable services. Our survey results provide clear evidence that we need to upgrade, not reduce, services if we are to support and protect vulnerable populations. We have made huge strides in the control of HIV, so it is particularly worrying to see that important aspects of HIV care, such as access to prevention services, testing and mental health support, have been reduced. Public Health England (PHE) figures show a 17 per cent fall in new diagnoses, which it attributes to large increases in HIV testing (PHE, September 2018.) It therefore makes no sense to make it more difficult for people to test, as shown by the reduced access to testing in clinics and outreach locations our members report.”

    ENDS

    Editor’s notes:

    1. Survey responses: The BASHH and BHIVA surveys were both conducted in August and September 2018. BASHH received 291 responses in total, of which 264 respondents were based in England. This press release summarises the responses provided by those members based in England.  BHIVA received 98 responses to the survey, 97 of which were from respondents based in England, which are summarised in this press release.
    2. The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH)is the lead professional representative body for those managing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV in the UK. It has a prime role in education and training, in determining, monitoring and maintaining standards of governance in sexual health and HIV care. BASHH also works to further the advancement of public health in relation to STIs, HIV and other sexual health problems and acts as a champion in promoting good sexual health and providing education to the public.
    3. The British HIV Association (BHIVA)is the leading UK association representing professionals in HIV care. Since 1995, it has been committed to providing excellent care for people living with and affected by HIV. BHIVA is a national advisory body on all aspects of HIV care and provides a national platform for HIV care issues. Its representatives contribute to international, national and local committees dealing with HIV care. It promotes undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing medical education within HIV care.

    For further information, please contact either: Simon Whalley, BASHH on 07506 723 324 or simon.whalley@mandfhealth.com or Jo Josh, BHIVA, on 07787 530 922 or jo@commsbiz.com.

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    I can’t recommend this film – which focuses mainly on older political activists campaigning for the NHS – too highly.
    (Statement of competing interests: I feature briefly in the film)

    Pensioners United

    Directors: Phil Maxwell, Hazuan Hashim

    Country: UK

    Running Time: 75′

    Year: 2018

    A potent account of a passionate group of pensioners who unite together to fight for a better life for themselves and those who will follow them. Starring Jeremy Corbyn, Harry Leslie Smith, the late Tony Benn, and thousands of inspirational pensioners from across the UK.
    ~ Allyson Pollock

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    For everyone who couldn’t make the Conference, here is Alison Scouller’s ( Vice Chair ) speech. An audio file is also posted.

    Jean Hardiman Smith

    Hello Alison Scouller here, sorry I can’t be with you. These are my thoughts to accompany the SHA discussion document before you. We decided to write this policy as part of our wider policy work, as we had no statement of the SHA’s perspective on maternity care.
    I’m a retired midwife who worked in hospital, community and latterly as a midwifery lecturer in South Wales. To devise a policy I took inspiration from the Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital campaign’s manifesto for maternity and worked initially with two Welsh members, Billie Hunter, Professor of Midwifery and Gill Boden who is a campaigner for AIMS, and another Midwifery Professor Mavis Kirkham from Sheffield as well as liaising with our secretary Jean Hardiman Smith. Since then we have revised the policy considerably, following suggestions and contributions from Central Council members.
    We have taken on board the particular concerns of the Liverpool campaigners in the context of the creeping privatization of the English NHS, but in writing this policy we had to have a policy which is applicable across the UK. Therefore the first paragraph sets this out. .
    We decided that the right to access contraception and abortion that should form part of another document about reproductive rights, including fertility treatment, and that here we should focus on care for pregnancy.
    As you can see in point 1) we put the importance of addressing poverty centre stage, and the overarching importance of good nutrition from pre to post pregnancy, in fact throughout everyone’s life! We decided not to be too specific on particular public health measures, as our policy has to be applicable in different versions of the NHS and the wider context. We also included the issue of other forms of stress and their detrimental effect on pregnancy outcomes, both in terms of women and babies.
    The next 2 points emphasize the importance of those at the centre of maternity care needing to be listened to, whether it’s about their own individual situation or in terms of general observations about how care should be. Planning for care should of course reflect diversity in all communities. In order to address inequalities in society, whilst all should receive the same level of care, extra provision should be there for some, as was recognized by previous Labour Governments in projects such as Sure Start.
    We went on to identify issues related to specific stages in pregnancy itself, having covered the pre pregnancy period. In point 6) Antenatal care is clearly crucial to ensure that women are aware of as many aspects of their health as possible, such as family history, normal physiological changes of pregnancy, Body Mass Index , any pathological conditions already present or precipitated by pregnancy, and how these may impact on their pregnancy outcomes. It needs to be accessible as early in pregnancy as needed. It should be as local to women as possible and include at least one home visit, unless the woman does not wish for this, with her named midwife.
    When we talk about antenatal education this does not mean in a formal, school type environment but can range from physically meeting in a group setting with a midwife to having education available on CDs, online and via social media. It’s not just about being given information for example about how labour may progress but also learning practical skills to cope with it, such as exercise and relaxation. It’s also about what happens after the birth and coping strategies for parents. The social and support aspects of women and family members meeting with others going through a similar experience are usually the most valued by those enjoying group education. Of course specific needs have to be catered for, so that some women may prefer to attend women only groups and prefer less formal settings.
    The evidence for the effects of adverse childhood experiences on people’s ability to be good parents is now quite compelling, hence point 7)
    In relation to point 8) We know from research and experience that women’s wishes in relation to place of birth are determined by many factors, and these are very varied. Health care professionals must strive to provide as much evidence based information to enable women and their families to make the right choices for them. All places of birth carry some risks, with home birth and stand alone birth centres there are always concerns about access to ‘back up’ in emergencies. On the other hand there are risks associated with unnecessary intervention (mistimed, inappropriate and even dangerous) in childbirth, both in terms of mortality but also morbidity of mothers and babies I think Lesley page coined the phrase ‘too much too soon, too little too late’ to summarise the problems unfortunately still occurring. The other thing to bear in mind is the importance of antenatal care and education in ensuring safe outcomes. If that care is as it should be, then women at risk of complications are less likely to have poor outcomes because care will have been tailored to mitigate those complications.
    Moving on to point 9) we identify the importance of continuity of care. This can be difficult to achieve in cash strapped services but has been consistently shown in research and other feedback to be a key concern for women and promotes positive outcomes.
    Finally we put in relation to after birth, points 10) and 11). Physical, emotional and mental health are equally important here. Increasing breastfeeding rates would make a huge difference to children’s health, yet initiation and continuation of breastfeeding rates in the UK remain low. Once again peer support has been shown to be critical to breastfeeding success, as well as support from midwives and health visitors.
    In the past, care of women’s mental health has lacked coordination between midwives, health visitors, GPs and community mental health nurses. Equally where babies have been compromised by maternal complications before or during birth and/or being born preterm then neonatal special and intensive care cots should to be available as needed.

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    This has been written as a response to Baroness Julia Cumberlege’s Better Births in England: a Five Year Forward View for maternity care.  Baroness Cumberlege recently opened a ‘pop –up’ birthing centre in Seacombe , Wirral.

    As a health campaigner, although the centre appeared very good in many ways, it appeared to fall far short of providing the safest place for a baby to be born.  This centre is part of a trial of 3 centres in England, 2 of which are to be in some of the most deprived areas of Merseyside.   Wirral CCG was emailed about safety issues such as the maximum time that would be guaranteed to transport a mother, whose baby became distressed during labour to hospital, for an emergency caesarean  section, and what statistically were the chances of a ‘low risk’ mother needing an emergency  caesarean  section.  Their replies contained warm words about the ambulance service, but no answer to that vital question of a guaranteed maximum time. The second question had been passed on to the Midwife run unit, who replied in writing that the statistic was not known.  It is difficult to understand how the mother-to-be can make an informed choice without being told both those pieces of information along with consequences of the failure to carry out an emergency caesarean  section when needed. This situation needs investigating as does the Better Births programme.

    The rhetoric of the phrases such ‘patient centred care’, ‘the  local solution’, ‘listening to women’ , ‘choice’ , and ‘personalised care’are concepts with which it is difficult to argue: this is by design.  However the rhetoric needs to be unpicked.   In Seacombe the local solution, a ‘pop-up’ centre  for this deprived area does not appear to be to be the best place for either mothers to give birth, babies to be born or midwives to manage births as there is no guarantee of a timely transfer to hospital if an emergency  caesarean  section is needed.

    The Better Births plan does stress safety considerations, but these considerations appear to get lost in other considerations.   Quoting from Summary of the report of the National Maternity Review ‘Better Births: Improving outcomes of maternity services in England’: Women should be able to choose the provider of their antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care and be in control of exercising these choices through their own NHS Personal Maternity Care Budget.  Women are able to fully discuss the benefits and risks associated with the different options for place and type of birth.  CCGs make available maternity services that offer the options of birth at home, in a midwifery unit or at hospital.

    The NHS is at present starved of funds and is unable to ensure that home births and ‘pop-up’ centres can be made as safe as hospital births because the ambulance service cannot guarantee to ferry a woman giving birth and her  baby in time to avoid catastrophic results.  The priority in these times of austerity should be the safest birth for baby and mother, which must be in a place where emergency caesarean sections can be carried out .  We are losing hospital beds and I fear when some women chose to give birth in an obstetrics hospital unit they will be told that choice is no longer available to them. When parents were given more choice about which schools their children would attend,  many found there were not enough places in the’good’ school they had chosen.

    It is the responsibility of our NHS at the point of birth to ensure the safest possible outcome for both mother and baby.

    This is of paramount importance.  All mothers- to- be would surely agree and choose that safest option for their child. It seems almost too obvious to state. It is catastrophic for a baby to be deprived of oxygen during labour:  to quote Professor Marianne Thoresen “Perinatal asphyxia can be devastating, putting babies’ lives in immediate danger,” “Babies who survive are at serious risk of developing life-long problems, such as cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Some are so badly affected they cannot move, speak or care for themselves.”

    Although childbirth is a natural process, nature is not always benign. Statistics show this, as does the insurance the NHS pays out when things go wrong. The Furness scandal illustrates what can happen. It seems that giving birth on Merseyside in the C21st . the local solution is not as safe as when I gave birth in Liverpool in the C20th.

    The shortage of nurses and midwives should be addressed immediately by re-instating bursaries.

    Jessica Ormerod’s ‘Rhetoric v. Reality – Can the new models of maternity care deliver a safe service?’ is essential reading.

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    This policy statement is intended to apply to all parts of the UK. The SHA wants adequate NHS, fully funded, woman-centred maternity care, for all women and their family/support networks, from pre-conception to 6 weeks after birth and beyond. Care needs to focus on long term outcomes. It needs to avoid the ‘business’ approach that concentrates on short term targets. The first 1000 days of life are crucial for the long term health and wellbeing of families and society in general. To achieve this, the following is necessary:

    Overall principles

    1. To address maternal and child poverty to improve outcomes and to relieve stress related damage, with good nutrition accessible to all, before, during and after pregnancy.
    2. The voice of the woman should be heard and listened to at all stages of planning and evaluation of maternity services.
    3. There should be high quality physical and mental health care appropriate in a diverse society.
    4. Pre-conception care must be available to all to achieve the healthiest pregnancy possible. It should cover harmful factors in the wider and personal environment, such as air and industrial pollution, tobacco, alcohol and substance misuse and domestic abuse.

    Specific stages of care

    1. Antenatal care and education should be accessible to women from all backgrounds and cultures.
    2. All care should aim for a safe and positive birth experience. Women should have a real choice of place of birth (home, midwifery or obstetric unit) having been fully informed about how these will meet their individual medical and personal needs. To achieve this home birth should be backed up when there is an emergency with adequate pre hospital care (provided by community-based midwives and paramedics specifically educated on maternity care). Such pre hospital care should enable safe, timely and appropriate transfer to hospital obstetric and neonatal paediatric services. Midwife –led units should be available to women, and hospital based care should allow women’s decisions to be respected.
    3. Continuity of care from midwives (and other relevant health care professionals) is crucial. All women should have a named midwife, who works as part of a community-based team of midwives, and who coordinates care with others, such as obstetricians, as necessary. Ideally there should be continuity of carer throughout the antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal periods. All women should have one to one care during established labour.
    4. Women and their families should be supported emotionally and physically in the early days after birth. There needs to be adequate and realistic help with breast feeding, including midwifery, health visitor and peer support. Community based psychiatric services need to be available to support women as needed, as well as sufficient mother and baby in patient psychiatric provision.
    5. There should be full funding of neonatal special and intensive (levels 2 and 3) care.

    Staffing

    1. More staff should be recruited to end the use of agency staff. This includes keeping staff from EU countries and making them very welcome. NHS staff should be actively supported and valued in order to relieve work-related stress and burnout and prevent attrition, so that in turn they are able to give the best quality care. The culture of risk, fear and blame should be resolved.

    Research and education

    1. Funding for research into maternity care, preterm birth, still birth, neonatal and perinatal mortality and birth injuries should be increased.
    2. Investment is required in the education of healthcare professional students involved in maternity care. These students should receive non means tested NHS bursaries while being educated. Where appropriate there should be joint education between students such as midwives, paramedics and doctors (potential future GPs and obstetricians) both before and after qualification.

     

     

    2 Comments

    As part of a Women’s Season of programmes, Yeti Television are making a documentary for BBC Wales about Abortion and the 1967 Abortion Act. ‘Beyond the Backstreet’ will tell the story of how the fight for safe & legal abortion was won in the 1960s and explore the desperate measures women were forced into before the act was passed. We also envisage bringing the story up to date and looking at how attitudes have changed – or not – in the past fifty years.

    No return to backstreet abortion demo

    We are currently researching and developing the documentary and looking to talk to women who would be willing to talk to us in confidence. At this stage, we are not asking people to appear on camera, but simply to have a chat with us about their experiences as part of our research. 

    In particular we are keen to talk to women of all ages who have had an abortion; been involved in campaigning around the issues; or have stories about this subject from the 1960s right through to the present day. We are especially keen to talk to women who had experiences of, or stories about, back-street abortion prior to 1967.

    We are also more than happy to talk to men with stories about this as well. I can assure everyone that we are treating this subject with the sensitivity it deserves and are passionate about telling the vitally important story about the 1967 Act and its ramifications to date.

    All contact will be in the strictest confidence and can be anonymous if preferred.

    If you are able to help please email women@yetitelevision.com or phone 07595449940 and ask for Jacqueline Lee.

     

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