UCLan secures £1/2m funding from UKRI-ESRC to research impact of COVID-19 pandemic on services for mothers, parents, and babies

12 July 2020

UCLan to work with UK and Dutch colleagues to find how services can be improved for expectant mothers and families in the future

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has been awarded £1/2m in funding for an 18 month ASPIRE-COVID19 UK study, that will look at what lessons can be learned from how maternal and neonatal care providers have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The new funded research from the Economic and Social Research Council (UKRI -ESRC) is being led by the Research in Childbirth and Health (ReaCH team) in UCLan’s School of Community Health and Midwifery and THRIVE Centre. The UCLan team will be working with colleagues at the universities of Manchester and Southampton in the UK, and Vrije University in Amsterdam, plus NHS and maternity policy colleagues, voluntary and service user groups.

The research team will investigate how health Trusts across the UK and in the Netherlands have adjusted their maternity and neonatal services in response to the crisis, and how far this has met the NHS England Better Births policy of safe and personalised maternity care, and parallel policies in the other UK countries.

Since the advent of the COVID -19 pandemic earlier this year, maternity and neonatal services across the UK have come under severe strain. In some Trusts, this has included:

  • Reduction in face-to face antenatal and postnatal care provision;
  • Restrictions on family members accompanying women to antenatal visits, scan appointments,  labour and birth.
  • Reduction, or complete removal, of community-based services such as home births, and closure of midwife led units.
  • Changes in elective caesarean section or labour induction services
  • Reduced visiting on postnatal and neonatal wards.

The pandemic has also seen several positive innovations in the use of new technologies, such as video links between families and their hospitalised neonates, or virtual communications between professionals and service users. Staff have also been affected by the changes in services, both positively and negatively.

The study will look at why there has been wide variation  across the UK, whilst also examining what has worked best to ensure safety and positive experiences for mothers, families, and staff during the crisis.

As part of the study, the team will also look at health services in the Netherlands, where the emphasis has been on keeping community maternity services open as long as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Others seem to have benefitted from online contact with health care providers, or video links with their babies if they are in neonatal units for a long time."

The research will also include the third round of the international online Babies Born Better survey, that collects women’s views and experiences of maternity care if they have had a baby in the last three years. So far, in previous rounds, the survey has had over 80,000 responses in 23 languages from 33 countries. More details on the study are available here:


Professor Soo Downe from UCLan’s School of Community Health and Midwifery said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on expectant mothers, their families, and the staff who provide maternity services.

“For some this has been a negative experience, especially where services have been reduced or withdrawn, or where companionship has been restricted during antenatal care, ultrasound scans, childbirth, or during postnatal and neonatal stays. Others seem to have benefitted from on-line contact with health care providers, or video links with their babies if they are in neonatal units for a long time.”

“We don’t know how these changes have affected both safety and wellbeing, for all those using maternal and neonatal services, but especially for those who don’t have access to the internet, or for those who tend to have worse outcomes, such as BAME women, or those living in poverty”.

“There is also very little known about how to support staff to do the best job possible while ensuring their safety and wellbeing during a pandemic, or a similar crisis” 

As part of its research, the UCLan team will work with eight hospital Trusts across the country with different profiles, and with different responses to the crisis, to look at how maternity and neonatal services changed since February 2020, why, and with what consequences.

The team will also be talking with parents and medical staff to gain their views and experiences of these changes.

Soo Downe adds: “We will look at how maternity services have reacted to the pandemic, and at what this has meant for the outcomes and experiences of  mothers, families, and health service staff, to see how the lessons of the crisis can help us to build a better future  service for all who use maternity and neonatal care.”

“Our job over the next 18 months is to look at the way maternity organisations in the UK and the Netherlands have responded to COVID-19, and to work out how we can make sure that ALL mothers, parents and babies get safe and personalised care, despite the challenging times we are all living in”

The ASPIRE-COVID19 UK website is now live at www.aspire-covid19.com

For further enquiries on the project please contact : ASPIRECOVID@uclan.ac.uk