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Protecting human rights in childbirth

Our top 12 highlights of 2021

Each December, we reflect as a team on our achievements – and this year we had the opportunity to do this in person, which was more magical than we could have imagined two years ago, before COVID-19 became a fixture in our daily lives. 2021 had the hallmarks of 2020 in many ways, starting with the longest lockdown we’ve had to date in the UK. But with the vaccine rollout, lifting of restrictions and testing capacity increasing tenfold, things have also progressed and we are all adapting to a new normal. It was wonderful to sit together as a team again in the Leigh Day offices (a big thank you again to Leigh Day for looking after us so well!) and look back over the year together – in our busy lives, we forget to do this, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

As Chief Executive, I couldn’t be more grateful to the brilliant Birthrights team for continuing to achieve so much for women and birthing people against a backdrop of much uncertainty and anxiety in the space Birthrights inhabits, and beyond. 

So before we break for Christmas, we wanted to share our highlights. (Please note: we are closed until Tuesday 4 January 2022 so the team can have a well-earned break, although we are checking the advice service for urgent enquiries.

Our top 12 achievements

  1. In February 2021, with support from law firm Leigh Day, we convened our national inquiry into racial injustice in maternity services. Since then we have held three oral evidence sessions, 10 focus groups and heard from hundreds of people, including women and birthing people and healthcare professionals and other birth workers about their experience of racism within maternity services. We are currently analysing the evidence we have collected and will be releasing our report and recommendations in the spring. We are grateful to our expert panel for making this vital inquiry a reality.
  1. We have continued working throughout the pandemic to challenge disproportionate visiting restrictions and changes to services. Earlier in the year the publication of legal advice we commissioned led to national guidance being changed on partners attending scans remotely, and also to an exemption in the COVID regulations for birth partners.,  We also commissioned research which revealed that perinatal depression and anxiety could cost society an additional £17.5 billion in England, and crucially how 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%.
  1. We  continue to challenge stringent visiting restrictions in maternity services (see our letter of claim before judicial review to Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and joint letter to the Welsh Government to rethink guidance on visiting restrictions). 
  1. Demand for our individual advice and support has continued to grow – last year enquiries to our advice line nearly tripled in 19-20 and that demand hasn’t fallen since then. Thousands of people have contacted us whether it be via direct email or through our social media community, and have accessed or downloaded our factsheets. 
  1. In August 2021, in collaboration with a diverse group of service user representatives, we published new and updated factsheets to provide the latest detailed information about your rights and the law in pregnancy and childbirth. 
  1. In addition, we published a translated summary factsheet on your basic birth rights in 16 different languages. 
  1. In 2021, with the support of the Esmee Fairbairn foundation we were able to properly evaluate the impact of our work for the first time. It was really powerful to see how valuable and empowering  both our training and advice service are.  
  1. In March 2021, we were delighted to share that Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) will offer maternal request caesareans at the John Radcliffe hospital going forward. This development came after four years of engagement between Birthrights and OUH.    
  1. We couldn’t be prouder of our brand new short film Speak Up, Speak Out, a new film to demystify the complaints process. The film features the real-life stories of three women, whose birth experiences led them to considering or making a complaint about their care. It has been released against a backdrop of increasing pressures in maternity services, not only due to COVID-19 but also long-standing staffing issues. At the same time as releasing the film, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care calling for  the Government to agree to the Health and Social Care Committee’s calls to increase the budget for maternity services by a minimum of £200 – £350 million per year in order to ensure adequate and sustainable staffing levels. We also supported the national March with Midwives.
  1. Partnerships continue to be crucial to our core work – from ongoing dialogue with NHS England, the Royal Colleges and NMC, to maintaining our campaigning partnerships with Pregnant then Screwed and as part of the But Not Maternity Alliance. We also joined the Maternal Mental Health Alliance. We continued to contribute to NHS England’s Maternity Transformation Stakeholder Council and the new consent tool, IDECIDE. 
  1. In September 2021, we published a joint blog with the GMC on what informed consent really means in maternity care. 
  1. We continued to submit evidence to consultations, including the NICE induction of labour guideline proposals. Within the proposals, we were particularly concerned about the proposal to single out black and brown women for earlier induction given the lack of evidence that induction improves outcomes for these women and their babies. We were also concerned that the proposed guideline took no account of the fact that many women and birthing people already feel pressured or even coerced into having an induction and that the quality of choice conversations around induction is generally poor. Our concerns, amongst those of many organisations, resulted in the guideline being updated positively in November 2021. We also worked with the Patient Information Forum and a number of other organisations to carry out a survey into women and birthing people’s experience of induction. The results were published just last week.

And an extra highlight…

Last but not least, our TEAM – and that’s everyone who makes Birthrights who it is. This year we welcomed Francesca (Engagement Director), Melissa (Participation Officer), Saras (Training Officer) and Sydney (Team Coordinator), four brilliant people who bring their own experiences, skills and energy to Birthrights’ mission. We also undertook valuable anti-racism with Nova Reid and LGBTQ+ training with The Queer Birth Club to strengthen our committment to inclusion and diversity in our work. Our financial position goes from strength to strength thanks to generous donations from our individual donors who have benefitted from our advice service, our existing funders The Baring Foundation and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the John Ellerman Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the National Lottery Community Fund and Thirty Percy for their generous support. We also want to thank our corporate partners – Bolt Burdon Kemp, Irwin Mitchell and Leigh Day.

In 2022, we will continue our mission to protect human rights in pregnancy and childbirth, including releasing the findings of our race inquiry in the spring, growing the depth and reach of our advice and training, building new partnerships with organisations, and adding to our amazing team. We wish you all a happy, peaceful Christmas and a wonderful new year.

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