Here at the PRU-MNHC we really look forward to our annual stakeholder day for our public involvement partners. The team enjoys the chats over lunch as much as the focussed research discussions, so it was something of a wrench to have to shift to an online meeting this year as well as an interesting online learning curve.
We decided to hold two online meetings to create more opportunities for everyone to be heard. This was particularly important this year, as we were gathering opinions and experiences to feed into the development of topics for research proposed for the policy research unit over the next 2-3 years.
The first two weeks of September went by in a whirlwind as we upgraded our Zoom facilitation skills and practised the virtual interactive meeting room world with researchers from the PRU's Public Involvement Task Group.
When it came to the live meetings themselves, there were moments which felt effortless: our office administration guru Pam would seamlessly pull members into a breakout room (a bit like an apparition trick from Harry Potter) but there were moments too when we couldn't share our screens or someone was unceremoniously 'thrown out' of a room, for no apparent reason. Nearly everything that could go wrong did, but everything that might go well did too, and we had two extremely useful and productive meetings.
We are very grateful to stakeholders from the more than 30 organisations and individuals, representing a variety of pregnancy, birth and postnatal issues and individual circumstances, who joined us to share what women and families were experiencing in maternity care under lockdown. During the meetings several individuals were juggling small children and babies at home and at least one had to join from her parked car.
Our partners told us about how reduced appointments, virtual consultations, heightened anxieties and partners not being able to attend scans or births were impacting on women, their partners and families, especially those who lived in challenging personal circumstances, or whose pregnancy had tragically ended in miscarriage or the stillbirth or death of their baby.
We heard how women's experiences suggested variation in care across the country. Women also told support organisations that they had experienced poor communication, lack of kindness and lack of support. We heard in particular about Black women's experiences of care. These are issues highly relevant to the PRU's work focusing in health inequalities. It continues to be the case that Black women are 5 times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy, childbirth or in the first 6 weeks after birth; Black and Black British babies and Asian and Asian British babies are, respectively, twice and 1.6 times more likely to die compared to white babies.
Digital poverty was a big theme too. We wrestled with questions around what we would keep that was positive in terms of service changes and with how we would measure what good care looked like for women and families going forward, particularly if women's expectations were already low.
The Policy Research Unit has taken these issues, along with other ideas from researchers and collaborators, to the Oversight Committee. This includes representatives from the Department of Health, NHS England/Improvement and Public Health England. The Committee will decide on the PRU's programme of work for the next few years. We will let you know the outcome of these decisions as soon we can.