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Call the midwife – the past, present and future of innovation in maternity services

By Jules Gudgeon, 11 July 2018


Head and shoulders of Jules Gudgeon in front of window with trees outside

When it comes to technical innovation in the NHS over the last 70 years, it’s ultrasound that I think has revolutionised the way we deliver care. This one innovation has changed the way we provide safer personalised maternity care for our women and babies.

People don’t realise how long ultrasound has been around. It was developed in the 1950s by an obstetrician called Ian Donald and an engineer called Tom Brown and it really took off in the 1970s.

Ultrasound is used in gynaecology and cancer services, but in maternity it's made a real difference. We use it to monitor a baby's growth, assess its wellbeing and check for signs of pre/early labour.

It is used to support the early diagnosis of  pre-eclampsia, to screen for anomalies and also diagnosing twins, triplets and higher multiples.

Just think about the scenes in the TV show Call The Midwife. Those outcomes depicted would all be so different if they had had ultrasonography.

I think it’s a fantastic innovation that the NHS should be very proud of.

People may not realise that there are more than 630,000 babies born in England each year.

Over the past 10 years we have experienced a digital technology explosion and during that time more than six million babies have been born.

These children will experience technology as just something that’s part of their lives – something they expect.

These digital savvy children are our future and therefore leaders within the NHS need to ensure that digital technology supports their needs to ensure they receive the best healthcare possible – that’s the exciting innovation challenge we have.

We’re currently looking at interoperable record sharing, that means a community midwife will be able to see a hospital midwife’s record and the woman’s digital health record will be available regardless of her location.

It’s unbelievable really, a heart surgeon won't perform an operation on a patient without all of the facts but there are obstetricians performing emergency Caesarean sections to save mums’ and babies’ lives who don’t have all the information at their fingertips just their clinical skill and judgement.

They do a fantastic job given the circumstances, but just imagine how much safer it could be if they had all the information to hand to guide their decision making.

I'm also very excited about using technology to provide a woman with choice and personalisation. The Safer Maternity Care vision aims to reduce neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and the number of brain injuries occurring at or immediately after birth by half by 2025.

It's digital technology that's going to help do that. Personalisation is the golden thread of safety that runs through the whole of maternity care and that's what we’re focusing on. So, these are really exciting times for maternity services.

How will maternity services look come NHS 100? Where do you start when looking at innovation of the future?

Think what we’ve achieved over the last 70 years – or even the last 10. I hardly recognise the maternity service that I worked in five years ago because it’s constantly developing, innovating, changing and becoming safer.

One thing’s for sure, babies will continue to be born. Babies will come out the same way as they’ve always done for thousands of years. The difference for the future, the innovation, will be to use technology to enhance the care that we give.

I would like to think that the Maternity Transformation Programme will mean that, in the future, our maternity services will be heralded as the safest in the world – I think that's where we're heading.

We’re going to be the ones that people look up to. They already look to us now as leaders for many parts of the maternity pathway, but, with all the innovation taking place, I think in 30 years time we’ll be right at the top – providing safe, kind, compassionate and personalised care.

Last edited: 17 August 2018 2:10 pm