Community Collaboration in Maternity Services
It’s so sad to read the words of midwives who are struggling to meet the demands placed on them while doing such an incredible job within the NHS. Having given birth myself (twice) I know how important they are in our communities: we simply couldn’t be without them.
In the absence of an obvious solution – and no more money – what can communities do to help relieve some of this pressure?
The first step is to get involved.
Join your local maternity committee (sometimes known as the Maternity Services Liaison Committee or MSLC) which is a forum for developing local maternity services led by those who receive the services (eg mums). A partnership approach avoids a destructive “them and us” culture.
Going a step further, communities can actually provide complementary peer-led services to local women. The organisation I work for – The Happy Mums Foundation – runs pregnancy and birth preparation courses and workshops (under the banner of ‘Daisy Birthing’) with the aim of empowering women to understand the process of giving birth and the benefits of keeping active and upright. Our teacher is trained by a national organisation (The Daisy Foundation) and accredited with the Federation of Antenatal Educators.
Our aims are many:
1) To prevent and alleviate maternal mental health problems (a woman’s experience of giving birth has been shown to be a factor in this);
2) To reduce unnecessary interventions by educating women about physiological birth and supporting informed choice;
3) To support the development of peer networks for local women.
We hope to reduce the pressure on midwives by giving women tools within themselves to cope well with labour.
Our classes are designed not to replace the NHS antenatal education, but to enhance it. Less limited by time and lack of resources we are able to cover additional ground, in smaller groups, and in different ways eg through yoga-based movement.
Originally established to tackle maternal mental health problems, The Happy Mums Foundation also runs support groups (under the banner ‘North Cumbria PANDAS peer support groups’ – recognising our affiliation with the national charity PANDAS) and projects like ‘Mindfulness for Mums’. We work with other local businesses and organisations to offer family first aid classes and swap shops for baby and toddler equipment, among other things.
Traditionally this type of activity was delivered through local authority community centres and charities (and still is) but the 3rd sector is changing rapidly. We are a registered Community Interest Company (a social enterprise). Unlike a charity we are not reliant on grants or donations – or even NHS contracts – we generate our own funding by charging for some of our activities on a cost-recovery basis, and operating a small room hire enterprise on the side. This means we can cross-subsidise – those who can afford to pay help to cover the costs of those from low income families. We also aim to provide as much as possible for free to women with existing mental health problems in line with our founding aim.
All this means we can be responsive to what local women tell us they want and need. And crucially we’re peer-led: ie. “By Mums For Mums”.
And this is just one model for how the community can support statutory health services. Innovation is leading to a radical change in how we can all work together.
It will take time for this new kind of partnership to find its feet. A key challenge we face is a cultural nervousness in some parts of the NHS – “are we allowed to endorse them?”, “are they trained/insured/safe?”, “are they just trying to make a profit?” (it’s right to ask – and I’d ask the same questions if it were me). But let those questions be the start of a conversation about how – together – we can begin to break down those barriers and continue to improve the services available to women in North Cumbria.
*The opinions expressed are the blogger’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Health Innovation Summit.
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