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UEL researcher to lead major new research into improving antenatal care

UEL is embarking on a pioneering new research programme with Barts Health NHS Trust, the UK’s largest NHS Trust.

The five-year multi-institutional research programme is part of a £1.9m research grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and targets socially disadvantaged and ethnically diverse communities who currently experience some of the worst maternal and infant outcomes.

The project is being led by Professor Angela Harden (pictured), a community and family health expert at UEL’s Institute for Health and Human Development and Barts Health, along with Sandra Reading, the Head of Maternity Services at Barts Health. It involves researchers from City University, London, the Institute of Education, Queen Mary University London, University College London, as well as women from the local area.

The areas served by Barts Health NHS Trust have some of the highest birth rates in the UK. Antenatal care can prevent adverse health outcomes for both mothers and babies and has an important role in giving every child the best start in life. But women do not always find it easy to access or fully engage with care during their pregnancy and Professor Harden and her team will be researching what works to improve this situation.

Three different approaches will be developed and tested by the team.

First, they will develop and evaluate a community-based intervention designed to encourage women to get the full benefits from their antenatal care, including accessing care as early as possible in their pregnancy, through a peer support network.

The researchers will then carry out the first large-scale UK evaluation of group-based antenatal care. The initiative involves delivering antenatal care to groups of women at the same stage of pregnancy rather than individually, an approach which has proved beneficial in other countries such as Australia and the US. The researchers will try to find ways of making group antenatal care accessible for all pregnant women, including those who do not do not speak fluent English.

The programme also aims to help marginalised groups of women become more involved in the design, planning and monitoring of maternity services. As well as working closely with the maternity service at Barts Health NHS Trust, the programme will identify how maternity care nationwide can involve women more effectively in shaping services.

The approaches tested within the research will be assessed on a range of outcomes including an increase in the numbers of women accessing care early in their pregnancy, mother and infant health, safety and well-being measures, and cost effectiveness.

Professor Harden said: “We know how important early uterine development is for determining the future life course of babies yet there are huge inequalities in early and consistent uptake of antenatal care. This research programme will provide valuable research evidence on what works to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities through closer partnership working between local women and health care professionals.”

Sandra Reading, Director of Midwifery at Barts Health NHS Trust said: “We are excited about the prospect of working in partnership with the University of East London on this groundbreaking study.  The study will provide us with vital intelligence and information on the current provision of antenatal care that we provide to our local communities.  Most importantly, it will also help shape future services to better meet the needs of our patients.”

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