On Thursday 22th October 2015, Myself, Helen, Gill, and Flo went to the National maternity review ‘Birth tank’ at the International convention centre in Birmingham. The event was to ‘pool ideas to improve maternity services and was to focus on how we overcome challenges to drive innovation and make practical changes that will improve maternity care’.
The event was by invitation and was to be a chance for discussing insights and ideas, then how to turn them into an action based plan for the future. It brought together people from all across maternity services to generate discussion and collaborative working as a community of maternity care experts. There was specific themes for the day which covered, such as technology, integration, inter-professional working, data, networks, choice and women centred care.
After registration and coffee and meeting up with some twitter peeps, Baroness Julia Cumberledge opened the day with a truly moving talk. She reminded us of some of the themes of Birth Tank 1, such as;
- service accessibility and choice
- inter-professional working and culture
- workforce supply and development
- operational matters
The Baroness then went on to talk about the need to improve responsiveness, safety and sustainability. Julia also highlighted that things have changed, the public now has more say in the care they recieve, that midwives too have changed and so have families.
The baroness then went on to talk about the that messages had been heard from the drop in events that have been held all over the country. Families and staff had spoke about;
- Continuation of care
- The need to ‘Listen’ to families
- kindness and respect
- My choice, my body, my baby, my family
- Antenatal care was ‘too rosey’, with no preparation for when things go wrong
- More access for MLU’s and Birthing pools
In fact the one clear point made was the need to ‘wrap services around the woman, baby and their family.’ Due to there being so many people still wishing to contribute to the review the Baroness announced the extension of the online survey for an extra two weeks from the end of October to mid November. The Baroness then went on to speak about the need to improve, that all those in attendance are ‘change agents’, that a report cannot alone change things but improvements need people, staff and service users. She likened it to ‘miners, who are searching and unearthing gold, hidden in the seams of the NHS.’ She concluded by saying only can improvement be made by US, namely all those that want to improve maternity care. After all, “what could possibly be more important than giving birth and bringing up the next generation?” We all agreed with such a heartfelt sentiment.
Next to speak was Sir Cyril Chantler, who spoke about, ‘while the outsider can judge care, only the insider can improve care’. Sir Cyril spoke about safety and while we cannot make birth completely safe, we can make it safer, as it is in other countries, and from them there is much we can learn. Sir Cyril said the focus must be on learning and not hiding from failure, because the results can be devastating for all involved. He also spoke about his own experience of having to pretend to be a porter to access the labour ward to see the birth of his third child and how important it is for dad’s and partners to be part of maternity experiences and the care given. He recalled the story of a father who had attended one of the drop-in events who told the review he had to wait three hours before he knew if his wife and baby were alive and ok.
Then the event became a little like speed dating, as every at the sound of a bell everyone moved from table to table to discuss different ideas on care, technology and services. There was 16 tables and each table had a champion that explained an innovation, example of good practice or an example of good care. I headed straight for the perinatal mental health table and heard about the perinatal mental health network in London and the work they are doing to improve outcomes for families that need this specialist support. A wonderful discussion took place on how this could be implemented nationally, something very needed. I then went to join discussions on ensuring that community based care becomes the norm, how we build care that is focused around the needs of an individual woman and how we can provide women with continuation of care. These were all very interesting and challenging discussions.
For me personally, I was aware that the room was full of very influential people, heads of services, commissioners, consultants and the like, yet as a patient rep I felt respected, listened to and that my opinions and ideas were very welcome and valued by all. It was a lovely atmosphere and I met some really fantastic people with wonderful ideas all very passionate about improving maternity services.
All around the room were the large pieces of paper that had come from some of the drop-in events, full of the thoughts of families, staff, everyone. They were truly moving to read and showed that there is much work to do to provide care that truly is encompassing of families and staff needs.
In the afternoon session we were able to hear the feedback from the morning table discussions and also other ideas ones had that they wished to add to the review.
Baroness Julia Cumberlege closed the day with another moving talk.
And so the day came to a close, time for Matexp to have a well earned cup of tea and of course a slice of cake before the long journey home.
It was a privilege to be part of the Birth tank, and there is much to be done to improve maternity services it can feel like an overwhelming task and I’m sure the review body must feel this way too. Yet there is the possibility that together we can make changes, we can put families first and provide maternity care that not only is safe, but respects choice is based on kindness and compassion, and cares for maternity staff too.
Yes a review while offering suggestions and recommendations can’t make the difference on it’s own because that comes from us. All those involved in caring for families have to want to make it better and be prepared to stand up and work hard to see areas that need to be improved. This will mean difficult conversations at times, admitting mistakes and also putting personal views aside. It will means truly engaging with families and making them partners in developing services and it means looking at ourselves and what we are bringing to the table and culture we work in. Together we can be the change, for women, babies, partners, families but also ourselves we just have to be prepared to mine for the gold that lies waiting to be discovered.