4 Research recommendations

The Guideline Development Group (GDG) has made the following recommendations for research, based on its review of evidence, to improve NICE guidance and antenatal care in the future. The Guideline Development Group's full set of research recommendations is detailed in the full guideline (see section 3).

4.1 Training for healthcare staff

What training should be provided to improve staff behaviour towards pregnant women with complex social factors?

Why this is important

The evidence reviewed suggests that women facing complex social problems are deterred from attending antenatal appointments, including booking appointments, because of the perceived negative attitude of healthcare staff, including non-clinical staff such as receptionists. It is expected that education and training for staff in order to help them understand the issues faced by women with complex social factors and how their own behaviour can affect these women will reduce negative behaviour and language. A number of training options currently exist that could be used in this context; however, which of these (if any) bring about the anticipated positive changes is not known. Given the resource implications of providing training across the NHS it is important to ascertain the most cost-effective way of providing this.

4.2 Effect of early booking on obstetric and neonatal outcomes

Does early booking (by 10 weeks, or 12+6 weeks) improve outcomes for pregnant women with complex social problems compared with later booking?

Why this is important

The NICE guideline on antenatal care (NICE clinical guideline 62) recommends that the booking appointment should ideally take place before 10 weeks and current policy[14] supports booking by 12 weeks for all women. The main rationale behind these recommendations is to allow women to participate in antenatal screening programmes for haemoglobinopathies and Down's syndrome in a timely fashion, to have their pregnancies accurately dated using ultrasound scan, and to develop a plan of care for the pregnancy which sets out the number of visits required and additional appointments that may need to be made.

Pregnant women with complex social factors are known to book later, on average, than other women and late booking is known to be associated with poor obstetric and neonatal outcomes[15]. It seems likely that facilitating early booking for these women is even more important than for the general population of pregnant women. There is, however, no current evidence that putting measures in place to allow this to happen improves pregnancy outcomes for women with complex social factors and their babies.

4.3 How can different service models be assessed?

What data should be collected and how should they be collected, and shared, in order to assess the quality of different models of services?

Why this is important

There is a paucity of routinely collected data about the effectiveness of different models of care in relation to demography. Although mortality data are accurately reflected in reports published by the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries[16], morbidity and pregnancy outcomes are not often linked back to pregnancies in women with complex social factors. Most research in the area of social complexity and pregnancy is qualitative, descriptive and non-comparative. In order to evaluate the financial and clinical effectiveness of specialised models of care there is a need for baseline data on these pregnancies and their outcomes in relation to specific models of care.

A national database of routinely collected pregnancy data is needed. The GDG is aware that a national maternity dataset is currently in development and it is hoped that this will ensure that data are collected in a similar format across England and Wales to allow for comparisons of different models of care.

4.4 Models of service provision

What models of service provision exist in the UK for the four populations addressed in this guideline who experience socially complex pregnancies (women who misuse substances, women who are recent migrants, asylum seekers or refugees or who have difficulty reading or speaking English, young women aged under 20 and women who experience domestic abuse)? How do these models compare, both with each other and with standard care, in terms of outcomes?

Why this is important

The evidence reviewed by the GDG was poor in several respects. Many of the studies were conducted in other parts of the world, and it was not clear whether they would be applicable to the UK. Many of the interventions being studied were multifaceted, and it was not clear from the research which aspect of the intervention led to a change in outcome or whether it would lead to a similar change in the UK. Also, in some instances it was not clear whether a particular intervention, for example a specialist service for teenagers, made any difference to the outcomes being studied.

Developing a clear and detailed map of existing services in the UK for pregnant women with complex social factors, and the effectiveness of these services, would enable a benchmark of good practice to be set that local providers could adapt to suit their own populations and resources. A map of providers, their services and outcomes may also enable commissioners and providers to learn from each other, work together to develop joint services and share information in a way that would lead to continuous improvement in services for these groups of women.

4.5 Antenatal appointments for women who misuse substances

What methods help and encourage women who misuse substances to maintain contact with antenatal services/attend antenatal appointments? What additional consultations (if any) do women who misuse substances need, over and above the care described in the NICE guideline 'Antenatal care' (NICE clinical guideline 62)?

Why this is important

Women who misuse substances are known to have poorer obstetric and neonatal outcomes than other women. Late booking and poor attendance for antenatal care are known to be associated with poor outcomes and therefore it is important that measures are put in place to encourage these women to attend antenatal care on a regular basis. Some of the evidence examined by the GDG suggested that some interventions could improve attendance for antenatal care, but this evidence was undermined by the use of self-selected comparison groups, so that the effect of the intervention was unclear.

In relation to additional consultations, the GDG was unable to identify any particular intervention that had a positive effect on outcomes, although there was low-quality evidence that additional support seemed to improve outcomes. Much of the evidence was from the US and there was a lack of high-quality UK data.

It seems likely that making it easier for these women to attend antenatal appointments and providing tailored care will improve outcomes, but at present it is not clear how this should be done.

[14] Department of Health (2007) Maternity matters: choice, access and continuity of care in a safe service. London: Department of Health.

[15] Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (2007) Saving mothers' lives: reviewing maternal deaths to make motherhood safer – 2003–2005. London: Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health.

[16] Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (2009) Perinatal mortality 2007. London: Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)