Midwifery-led settings for birth (midwifery units and at home) are increasingly important in UK maternity care policy. National guidance recommends that healthy women with straightforward pregnancies, who are at 'low risk' of complications during labour and birth, are advised that they may choose any birth setting. Midwifery units are particularly recommended because 'low risk' women who plan birth in these settings are more likely to have a straightforward birth without needing medical intervention. Care in a midwifery unit is as safe for a 'low risk' woman and her baby as care in a hospital obstetric unit (or labour ward).
Of the ~800,000 women who give birth each year in the UK an estimated 350,000 are eligible for midwifery unit care and the number of midwifery units is increasing. Because care in midwifery units is becoming increasingly important, we need more evidence to improve care and ensure safety for women and their babies.
The UK Midwifery Study System (UKMidSS) is a novel infrastructure to enable national studies of uncommon conditions and events in midwifery units, established as part of a research programme on improving the quality and safety of midwifery-led intrapartum care funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Post Doctoral Fellowship awarded to Dr Rachel Rowe.UKMidSS comprises a network of over 200 midwives, in all 121 UK midwifery units, who report monthly anonymised data using web-based systems. This infrastructure facilitates a rolling programme of national studies on topics of importance to midwifery-led care and has the potential to contribute to the development of midwifery research capacity. The evidence provided by the studies carried out using UKMidSS will inform national and local clinical practice, policy, guidelines, midwifery unit admission criteria and women's decision-making about place of birth, with the ultimate aim of improving outcomes for women and their babies.