Birthrights welcomes new Advice and Legal Officer…

Birthrights is delighted to welcome Alice Waddington to the Birthrights fold as our Advice and Legal Officer. Alice replaces Reilly Willis who left Birthrights in April after being offered a full time Lectureship in Law close to home. Alice will be looking after our advice service; responding to enquiries, ensuring all materials are up to date, and growing and developing the service.

Alice has worked in the Charity sector consistently since graduating from Queen Mary, University of London in 2003.  In 2009, she began the Graduate Diploma in Law at BPP Law School whilst working full time and sat her final exams for the Legal Practice Course a month before giving birth to her second child. She has been a dedicated Project Manager for many years, running projects to improve outcomes for some of the UK’s poorest children and has always been committed to using her skills to support her local community, volunteering at the Free Legal Advice Centre at Toynbee Hall whilst also being a vocal member of the Governing body at a nearby school. Having grown up in two continents, Alice is fluent in four languages and hopes to reach women who have yet to encounter our work. She is extremely excited to be joining Birthrights! 

Birthrights concerned by coronial stillbirth proposals

Birthrights has today published its response to the consultation on coronial investigations into stillbirths which closes on the 18th June. We urge all those with an interest to submit a response before the deadline next Tuesday.


Birthrights recognises the positive intent to help families, who have suffered the heartbreak of a stillbirth, to access an independent investigation about what happened. However, we believe that further consideration and impact analysis is needed to ensure these proposals deliver what families need, without putting further strain on an over-stretched coronial system and unintentionally blurring the legal definition of personhood, which could have serious consequences for the scrutiny and rights of pregnant women. It is crucial that women and families are kept at the heart of any future process.

We are calling for:

  • Parents to have the final say over whether a post-mortem is conducted, not the coroner
  • Families to be given information about what the coronial process involves in order to make an informed decision about whether to proceed, and to have access to proper support throughout the process
  • Provision for legal aid for families to be represented in the coroners court
  • Safeguards to be put in place around the questioning of the person who gave birth, particularly their antenatal choices which may be put under scrutiny
  • Media reporting restrictions to be put in place to protect families’ right to privacy 
  • Proper assessment of whether the coronial system has the capacity to take on these investigations
  • A full equalities impact assessment to be conducted before any changes are introduced 
  • Further consideration of how coroners investigations fit with other processes, some of which are quite new, such as HSIB investigations
  • Consideration of whether other non-legal processes, such as open disclosure, may better meet the policy objectives 

Chief Executive Amy Gibbs commented:

“We deeply sympathise with families who have experienced the tragedy of a stillbirth and know many bereaved families feel current investigations and procedures have been inadequate and defensive. It is essential that the Government gets these proposals right to honour these families, without creating unintended consequences. As our response sets out, we believe that creating a new and distinctive set of coronial powers that permit a coronial enquiry and investigation, where bereaved parents have given informed consent and are supported by appropriate safeguards, is the only acceptable solution compatible with human rights principles.”

Birthrights and partners submit evidence to the UN

Last week Birthrights joined with the White Ribbon Alliance, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Make Birth Better, to submit evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur, about how pregnant women are treated in the UK.

The UN Special Rapporteur, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović has identified the issue of mistreatment and violence against women during reproductive health care and childbirth as the subject of her next thematic report to be presented at the UN the General Assembly in September 2019.

Whilst there is much to celebrate about maternity care in the UK, disrespectful care is still far too common, with women whose life circumstances are more complex, less likely to receive safe and dignified care.

The joint submission to the UN can be found here.

Birthrights cautiously welcomes first signs of change to OUH maternal request caesarean policy

Birthrights has written once again to Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) cautiously welcoming moves to review its policy of sending women who ask for a maternal request caesarean to other Trusts.

Lawyers acting for Birthrights wrote to the Trust in July last year, asking detailed questions about how OUH responded to requests from women for a caesarean, where there was no clinical indication (maternal request), after receiving more complaints about OUH’s policy than any other Trust in the country. After a further intervention by our Chair, Elizabeth Prochaska, we received a response in January.

Programmes Director, Maria Booker, commented:

“Although we continue to have concerns that the picture painted by OUH does not match the accounts we have heard from local women, we are nevertheless pleased to hear that OUH is actively consulting its obstetric team, and considering the option of carrying out maternal request caesareans onsite at the John Radcliffe. We urge OUH to follow the example of Birmingham Women’s and others who have worked together with service users and staff to create a policy that puts women’s needs first whilst also respecting the views of staff. We look forward to receiving a comprehensive update on progress.”

The letter sent to OUH on behalf of Birthrights on the 26th March 2019 can be found here and previous correspondence is below:

Letter to OUH sent on behalf of Birthrights July 2018

Response sent on behalf of OUH January 2019

Neighbourhood Midwives

We were very saddened to hear last week about the imminent closure of Neighbourhood Midwives. Neighbourhood Midwives started out as a private, independent midwifery company, but were commissioned by Waltham Forest CCG to offer continuity of care, free of charge, to women as part of a two year pilot following  “Better Births”. Neighbourhood Midwives have been highly valued by the families they care for, and are respected across the maternity community. 


Birthrights contacted Annie Francis, CEO of Neighbourhood Midwives, as soon as we heard the news, to offer our support. Annie recognises that people have lots of questions about what happened last week, and the future implications of this, but has emphasised that her immediate priority and that of her team is ensuring a smooth transfer of care for the women Neighbourhood Midwives have been caring for before Neighbourhood Midwives closes its doors tomorrow.


With that in mind, on Monday our Programmes Director, Maria Booker, spoke to Barts and Homerton NHS Trusts, and also Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group. We have been impressed by the commitment of all those involved, many of whom were just as surprised as everyone else to hear the news, to ensure women do get both the continuity of care and the birth they were promised. Women who are due to give birth before the end of February have been prioritised and it is our understanding that those transfers of care have already happened/are in the process of being completed and remaining women are now being transferred. 


We have responded to all the women who have contacted us about the closure of Neighbourhood Midwives to provide more detailed information about next steps, and to let them know that we are here for them if they need any further assistance or support. This is the information that has been provided by Whipps Cross and Neighbourhood Midwives and our choice of place of birth factsheet . We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure women are receiving the care they expect.


Our Chief Executive, Amy Gibbs, has also contacted Baroness Cumberlege, the Chair of the national maternity review, about the broader concerns raised by the closure of Neighbourhood Midwives.


If you have any concerns about the closure of Neighbourhood Midwives, or would like any assistance or support with your care please contact us on advice@birthrights.org.uk.”

Six months on and still no response from OUH on maternal request caesarean policy…

Our Chair, Elizabeth Prochaska, has today written to Dame Fiona Caldicott, Chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to urge her to hold her board to account over the lack of response to a letter sent in July, asking OUH to clarify important details surrounding its maternal request caesarean policy. It is somewhat surprising that an NHS Trust that is accountable to the public, should feel able to ignore a serious request for information, made on behalf of local women, and we look forward to receiving a substantive response by the 3rd January.

The full letter to Dame Caldicott can be found here.

Happy Human Rights Day 2018

As the UK’s only organisation protecting human rights in pregnancy & childbirth, Birthrights are very proud to be supporting #HumanRightsDay2018 & to join forces with 155 organisations asking the PM to safeguard our freedoms here in the UK #weareallhuman #humanrightsday2018 #humanrights

Full text of the letter, co-ordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR):

Dear Prime Minister

Today, on Human Rights Day, we ask you to join us in celebrating universal human rights in the UK and commit to standing firm on our hard-won freedoms and protections.

Created 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone in human history. Following the horrors of World War II, the world community came together to say never again and set down the protections every person has simply because we are all human.

Heralded as Magna Carta for all human kind, the UDHR has set a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, inspiring law and action across the world.

Through the European Convention on Human Rights and our own Human Rights Act we have brought those rights home, making them real and meaningful for people everyday across the UK.

2019 marks another milestone in our history. As the UK prepares to exit the European Union, and uncertainty surrounds us, we ask you to ensure that our commitment to universal human rights at home remains strong and certain.  


advice@birthrights.org.uk

Birthrights now has a dedicated email address for advice enquiries:

advice@ birthrights.org.uk

If you have any queries about human rights relating to maternity care – please get in touch with us. Our free email advice line is not only for women and their families but also for healthcare professionals.

If you have any other enquiries about training, speaking engagements or anything else then do continue to contact us on info@birthrights.org.uk

Birthrights welcomes new Legal Officer

Birthrights is delighted to welcome Reilly Willis, our new Legal Officer to the staff team. Reilly, who starts with Birthrights this week, is an experienced international human rights lawyer specialising in women’s rights and gender equality. You can find out more about Reilly here.

Reilly will be responding to our advice line enquiries, ensuring our resources are up to date and accessible, and will be leading any legal interventions undertaken by Birthrights, and we are very excited to have her on board!

Maternal request caesarean research highlights postcode lottery

Birthrights has published research today concerning the treatment of women who request a caesarean section. Results of a nationwide Freedom of Information Act request show that the majority of Trusts in the UK make the process of requesting a caesarean lengthy, difficult or inconsistent adding anxiety and distress to women at a vulnerable time. And lawyers acting for the charity are concerned that at least one Trust may be acting unlawfully.

Official NICE guidelines states: ‘For women requesting a caesarean section, if after discussion and offer of support… a vaginal birth is still not an acceptable option (Trusts should) offer a planned cesarean section.’ But pregnant women in some regions who ask about the procedure are simply told to go elsewhere. Statistics show that 15% of Trusts have policies or processes that explicitly do not support maternal request caesarean, while 47% of Trusts have policies or processes that are problematic or inconsistent. Only 26% of Trusts offer caesareans in line with NICE best-practice guidance.

Commenting on these results, Chief Executive of Birthrights, Rebecca Schiller said: “Maternal request caesareans are the the number one reason women contact the Birthrights advice service. The women we support have endured previously traumatic births, mental ill-health, childhood sexual abuse or have carefully examined the evidence available and made informed decisions that planned caesareans will give them and their baby the best chance of an emotionally and physically healthy start. It is clear that women requesting caesareans meet judgement, barriers and disrespect more often than they find compassion and support. We are concerned that this lack of respect for patient dignity could have profound negative consequences for the emotional and physical safety of women.”

On 27th July 2018 lawyers acting for Birthrights wrote to Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group asking for further information about the policy in place at the John Radcliffe hospital not to offer maternal request caesareans.

Programmes Director Maria Booker explains, “Many women have contacted us about disrespectful treatment at the John Radcliffe hospital. We first wrote to the Trust and CCG in May 2017. Trusts are bound by human rights duties to offer individualised care. Any statement or policy from a Trust that caesarean would only be granted on medical grounds may be incompatible with Trusts’ obligations to have an open, supportive, two-way discussion that explores all reasonable options. If such a policy is then applied in a blanket way then it could be incompatible with human rights law. We have made the Trust and CCG aware that we hope to resolve this issue without litigation and we encourage Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and its commissioners to begin to work with us constructively to change their policy. Otherwise we will look to explore all options, including judicial review, to ensure that women living in Oxford get the respectful care they deserve and that the law obliges their caregivers to provide.”

Click here to find out more about our campaign and to see our interactive map.