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Protecting human rights in childbirth

COVID-19 has created a maternity mental health burden of £17.5 billion

Pregnant woman looking out of window, hand resting on pregnant abdomen.

Perinatal depression and anxiety could cost society an additional £17.5 billion in England, an analysis commissioned by Birthrights, the UK’s charity for protecting human rights in childbirth, has concluded.

The article, written by health economist and Associate Professor (UCL) Rachael Hunter and published by the Journal of Quality in Health Care & Economics, discusses the potential impact of measures put in place by maternity services to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It details how studies including systematic reviews and meta-analyses have found an increase in perinatal depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Crucially it found that social support was a key protective factor and that maternity services who facilitated the involvement of partners in maternity care could reduce this cost by as much as 50%.

Throughout the pandemic Birthrights has been raising the impact of stringent COVID-19 restrictions in maternity services on women and birthing people with Trusts and policy makers. Where restrictions have been inconsistent, disproportionate and, at worst, inhumane, Birthrights has written to Trusts and Local Maternity Systems and other organisations directly.

Maria Booker, Programmes Director at Birthrights and lead on Birthrights’ COVID-19 work, said:

‘Birth is a significant life event. Familiar support around this time has been shown to improve clinical outcomes. For the first time, Rachael Hunter’s analysis published in the Journal of Quality in Health Care and Economics, quantifies the impact of removing this support.

We know from our work that the impact of any restrictions on pregnant women and birthing people and their families are still not being explicitly considered. This inevitably leads to the situation we hear about through our advice line where women who have had suffered previous loss or trauma are left without the support they need, where individuals have to receive devastating news alone, and where someone who is recovering from a difficult birth also has to care for a sick baby on a ward where staff are already overstretched.

We know COVID-19 has created unprecedented pressures for the NHS including maternity services, but any restrictions must be proportionate and take account of all risks, including the impact on individuals and families.’

Rachael Hunter, Associate Professor at University College London said:

‘Research shows perinatal depression and anxiety have significant implications for pregnant women and their children: it not only has a negative impact on their mental and physical well-being, but also represents a considerable cost to the health care sector and wider society. The likelihood of perinatal depression and anxiety has likely increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in England, although more research in this area is needed. Health care organisations that provide maternity services have a duty of care to reduce the risk of perinatal depression and anxiety through identifying those at risk and signposting them to suitable services. Research has also shown that the care provided by health care staff and ensuring that pregnant women have access to social support as part of their care can help reduce the chance of maternal depression and anxiety and hence the cost.’

Read Maria Booker’s (Programmes Director) blog about the analysis.

For media enquiries or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson please contact: Francesca Treadaway press@birthrights.org.uk

If you need advice relating to your rights in maternity care please contact: advice@birthrights.org.uk

ENDS

Notes for editors

The article, written by Rachel Hunter and published by the Journal of Quality in Health Care & Economics is available to read at medwinpublishers.com/JQHE/the-role-of-maternity-services-in-reducing-the-prevalence-and-cost-of-perinatal-depression-and-anxiety-during-covid-19-in-england.pdf

You can find out more about Birthrights’ work during the COVID-19 pandemic at: birthrights.org.uk/campaigns-research/coronavirus/

Birthrights is working hard to address these issues and to champion respectful care during pregnancy and birth by protecting human rights during the pandemic. You can read more about our call for all women and birthing people to receive safe, respectful and compassionate care during Coronavirus in our March 2020 statement and in our responses to relevant Parliamentary inquiries.

About Birthrights

Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving the experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights. We believe that all are entitled to respectful maternity care that protects their fundamental rights to dignity, autonomy, privacy and equality.

We provide advice and legal information to women and birthing people, train healthcare professionals to deliver rights-respecting care and campaign to change maternity policy and systems.

Read our mission statement and values.

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