Postnatal Care a Priority, says CQC

The postnatal period is of crucial importance to the mental health of mothers and the development of their babies.

Unfortunately, a new study shows that the standard of NHS postnatal care received by some new mothers is “falling short” of what it should be.

The Care Quality Commission report highlighted the need for NHS trusts to pay more attention to both the experience of new mothers and their feedback regarding the level of care they receive.

However, it is not only postnatal care that has room for improvement; nearly one in four mothers surveyed said that they were left alone at a stage during childbirth when it worried them and nearly half felt they received inadequate information about postpartum health and recovery. Postnatal mental health is an area of particular concern, with 44 percent of women saying that they did not receive enough information regarding emotional health during the post-birth period.

In addition, many women expressed concern about the extent and availability of breastfeeding support they received from NHS antenatal services.

Furthermore, the Care Quality Commission described these shortcomings in maternity services as “disappointing” and highlighted the need to improve the situation.

There’s also plenty of good news, however; nearly nine in ten of the 17,611 women surveyed said that they felt that NHS maternity staff treated them with respect and dignity, while the CQC said that “overall, women reported positive experiences for many areas of their maternity care in 2018”. This includes:

  • Being asked how they feel emotionally during antenatal care
  • Feeling listened to by midwives during antenatal check-ups
  • Being spoken to in a way they understood during labour and birth
  • Having confidence and trust in the staff caring for them

Continuity of care is one of the issues highlighted, with only one in seven women seeing their labour midwife during antenatal care and more than two in ten saying that the midwife who saw them during the antenatal period was unaware of their medical history.

And 44 per cent said they didn’t think they were given enough advice on the emotional changes they might experience.

‘The survey reveals a number of positive results, with support during antenatal check-ups and partner involvement showing encouraging upward trends,’ commented Nigel Acheson from the CQC.

“However, the results also indicate that in other areas women’s experiences continue to fall short. It is particularly disappointing to see that scores for questions about postnatal care remain poor – information provision, emotional support and communication after birth are all highlighted as areas where experiences could be improved. Similarly, ensuring greater continuity of care for women through the whole maternal journey is an area where trusts need to focus their attention.”

An Opportunity for Improvement

The latest Care Quality Commission maternity services survey should be seen as an opportunity to improve the experience of NHS postnatal care. Last year researchers at Harvard Medical School and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, US, found that by improving the level of focus on managing pain and other concerns in the postnatal period, maternity professionals can improve long-term wellbeing outcomes for new mothers and their families.