pregnant woman using phone

Keeping new mothers connected to healthcare during the pandemic 

For new mothers, bringing home their newborn baby can be a daunting and challenging experience. The role of midwives before, during and after the birth is to provide vital support to new and repeating parents to ensure the baby is cared for as best as possible.  

Patient feedback plays a vital role in ensuring the needs of parents are met and resources are adapted to what they truly require. 

Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust have introduced a new way of collecting and collating their patient feedback, allowing them to better understand those that they care for.  

The new system allows new mothers to provide feedback, ask questions and raise queries through their smartphone making it quicker and more accessible for them.  

Amy Stubbs, Deputy Director of Midwifery and Head of Nursing, Women and Children at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust said: “When mothers get that valuable two second break in the day, they don't really want to sit and fill in paper feedback forms. However, they do live on their phones and social media platforms. And we were really aware of that and knew that needed to have a really active social media presence”. 

During the pandemic and in particular during the lockdowns and isolation periods for many, new mothers were somewhat alone as they began their journey with motherhood after having their baby and being discharged from hospital.  

The immense pressures and demand placed on the healthcare sector during the Covid-19 outbreak meant that communication methods such as social media were “put on hold,” said Amy: “It really was the right thing to do because the additional burden on healthcare providers to be collecting the information from social media at such an intense time was a lot, but it really was a key part of maternity services. 

“We had lots of women out there and things were changing daily – whether they were supposed to stay in, go out, whether they could go to the shops etc – so, whilst it was sensible to pause friends and family feedback, it was a critical moment for us in maternity to be able to keep receiving that feedback and gain an understanding of what women were worried about”.  

The Ockenden Report 2020, carried out by Donna Ockenden on behalf of the maternity services at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, discovered some key findings from within and around the service. This report highlighted some areas to Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust’s maternity services, promoting them to act.  

“Some of the key premises and piece of learning to come out from the Ockenden report is the importance of women understanding the information [maternity services] give them,” said Amy.  

“Social media provides us with an opportunity to be really responsive when it is clear that women maybe aren’t quite understanding key messages. 

“An example of that would be health terms and jargon used within healthcare. To us they may seem obvious, but to them they might actually get quite confused by it and it might make them feel upset and less likely to come forward for help or advice”. 

Through a system which can collate all the feedback and data gathered via the Trust’s social media platforms, maternity services are able to pick out key themes that are affecting the women they care for and target those to provide the king of help and advice they truly need.  

Amy added: “We do things like ‘Signpost Saturday’ where we see the key themes occurring and we think maybe women aren’t quite understanding what goes on around induction of labour information and then we will blitz our social media channels in response to that by giving them lots more information about that topic.” 

Telehealth has gone from strength to strength across the healthcare system whilst some of it being rapidly implemented due to the pandemic. Maternity services were no exception to this, following suit by moving classes and some appointments online.  

“If we hadn't been able to collate the information and respond quickly, I think the anxiety [for women] would have been much higher,” said Amy Stubbs. 

“An example of that being us moving all of our antenatal classes online and we were able to do that really quickly, and communicate that out to everyone really quickly, via social media.  

“We knew women were desperate to still have their classes. In fact, more than ever, because they were quite isolated at home, particularly in those early days of pandemics a lot of pregnant women literally just locked their doors and stayed indoors, because they were so frightened. 

“They desperately wanted to have that education. They wanted to understand what was going on. Moving everything online really quickly, communicating out to them and delivering on that meant we were still able to provide help and care for the ones who needed it.” 

Whilst for many women a digital alternative to the face-to-face help they once received was a positive and welcomes adaptation, many others were not as confident with the change. 

Digital health access across many groups has been a focus for healthcare providers with them all trying to adopt a way of engaging those harder to reach groups.  

Amy said: “During the pandemic, we haven't been able to get out to mother and toddler groups, religious groups, areas where we might usually go to reach those harder to reach women and understand what their experience has been like. Social media has been our only way of engaging and has been essential, in trying to reach those groups. 

“We have found that some women whose first language isn’t English may not even have access to a smart device to see and use social media and this has been a huge challenge in the pandemic and also women from more deprived areas. 

“With funding from within the ICS and the additional funding from NHS Digital, smart devises have just gone through a procurement process which we will be giving out to people who are from those areas of deprivation to support them accessing both maternity records, which are digital and also giving them the ability to access and give feedback”. 

As well providing tips, advice, and all-important information to mothers or soon to be mothers through online platforms, Amy Stubbs said that online platforms have given women a “safe space” to give their feedback. 

“Sometimes people will say things online that they would not feel comfortable doing in person and that is a great benefit to using social media for maternity services”. 

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NHE May/June 2024

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