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Protecting human rights in childbirth

12 highlights of 2020

Reflections from our Chief Executive, Amy Gibbs.

Each December, we reflect as a team on our achievements. 2020 has posed more challenges than any of us could have imagined – personally, professionally and for human rights in childbirth. Having only come back from maternity leave in October, I’m in total awe of the team for pulling out all the stops to achieve so much for women and birthing people during the pandemic, all while juggling home-school, Covid anxiety and much more besides.

So here are our highlights. We wish all our supporters as Merry a Christmas as possible in these very challenging times. We are closed until 4 January 2021 so the team can have a well-earned break, though we are checking the advice service for urgent enquiries.

  1. Demand for individual advice and support went through the roof and we’ve responded to over 800 enquiries since April, a 400% increase compared to non-Covid years. Thousands more people accessed our online Covid FAQs on your rights in the pandemic and our tool for healthcare professionals.
  2. We’ve had lots of positive feedback from people receiving our advice and secured numerous improvements for individuals – such as exceptions to visitor restrictions for people with particular needs, previous birth trauma, baby loss, or multiple births.
  3. Using the intelligence from our advice service, we’ve influenced the national and local Covid response to protect human rights in childbirth – with home birth services and birth centre access reinstated and improvements to national guidance, such as on women not wearing masks in labour and use of birth pools as pain relief. Our correspondence with NHS Trusts during the pandemic shows the local changes we’ve sought and secured.
  4. With our #ButNotMaternity campaign partners, we helped strengthen NHS England’s guidance on visitor restrictions, which now recognises support from a chosen companion is a “key component of safe and personalised maternity care” and should be available to women and birthing people “at all stages of their maternity journey”. (Please let us know on advice@birthrights.org.uk if things are not changing in your Trust.)
  5. We submitted our first ever parliamentary responses on maternity safety and on the impact of coronavirus, along with numerous consultation responses to NICE and other national bodies. We continued to pursue our pre-Covid policy goals and finally secured movement from Oxford University Hospitals Trust in our long-running campaign for them to offer maternal request caesareans.
  6. Human rights in childbirth has been front page news, with Birthrights evidence and comment featured regularly in print, online and broadcast media. We launched our brand new instragram page and grew our reach on Facebook and Twitter.
  7. We moved our training programme for healthcare professionals online, developing new modules and delivering eight in-depth workshops on rights-respecting maternity care this Autumn – which received highly positive feedback. We reached over 1000 more maternity professionals via virtual conferences and events hosted by others.
  8. Partnerships continued to be crucial to our mission – from ongoing dialogue with NHS England and the Royal Colleges to new campaigning partnerships with Pregnant then Screwed. We continued to contribute to NHS England’s Maternity Transformation Stakeholder Council and the new consent tool, IDECIDE. We campaigned with bpas on pain relief in labour, with Baby Lifeline on maternity safety training, and with Mumsnet on information and decision-making in antenatal care.
  9. We took care of each other during a year of significant internal and external change, finding new ways to connect and give support online – with special thanks to Angela Style for steering the Birthrights ship safely through such stormy waters while I was on maternity leave.
  10. Inclusion became a greater focus for the Board and staff team, both internally and externally. We did a Board audit, recruited four fantastic new Trustees to strengthen skills and ethnic diversity, and mirrored these commitments in our staff recruitment. We were thrilled to have Reema Ved start in September, with Melissa Brown joining us in the new role of Participation Officer in February 2021. We look forward to LGBT+ and anti-racism training in 2021 and to growing our small staff team a bit more.
  11. Despite the challenging climate, we secured our financial position and brought in major new grants (big thanks Angela!). We’re so grateful to existing funders The Baring Foundation and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for their Covid emergency funding, and to new funders John Ellerman Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the National Lottery Community Fund and Thirty Percy for backing our vision. We also want to thank our corporate partners – Bolt Burdon Kemp, Irwin Mitchell and Leigh Day – and all our individual supporters, especially families who donated after receiving our advice.
  12. Last but not least, we secured funding and backing for our national human rights inquiry on racial injustice in maternity care, set to launch in early 2021. Thank you to all the experts – including Black and Brown women with lived experience, senior lawyers, practising healthcare professionals and anti-racism campaigners – who’ve already pledged to be part of this vital work. Watch this space for news soon…

In 2021, we will continue to challenge harmful Covid restrictions that jeopardise human rights in maternity care, grow the reach and inclusivity of our advice and training programmes, and drive action on racial injustice through our internal and external work.

We look forward to working with everyone who shares our vision that all women and birthing people receive the respect and dignity they deserve in pregnancy and childbirth.

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