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Open Access Debate

Learning from a Rapid Health Impact Assessment of a proposed maternity service reconfiguration in the English NHS

Greg Fell* and Sophie Haroon

Author Affiliations

Yorkshire and Humber Public Health Training Programme, Yorkshire Deanery, c/o Academic Unit of Public Health, Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, 101 Clarendon Road, Leeds, LS2 9LJ, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:138  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-138

Published: 25 April 2008

Abstract

Background

Within many parts of the country, the NHS is undertaking reconfiguration of services. Such proposals can prove a tipping point and provoke public protest, often with significant involvement of local and national politicians. We undertook a rapid Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of a proposed reconfiguration of maternity services in Huddersfield and Halifax in England. The aim of the HIA was to help the PCT Boards to assess the reconfiguration's possible consequences on access to maternity services, and maternal and infant health outcomes across different socio-economic groups in Kirklees. We report on the findings of the HIA and the usefulness of the process to decision making.

Methods

This HIA used routine maternity data for 2004–2005 in Huddersfield, in addition to published evidence. Standard HIA techniques were used.

Results

We re-highlighted the socio economic differences in smoking status at booking and quitting during pregnancy. We focused on the key concerns of the public, that of adverse obstetric events on a Midwife Led Unit (MLU) with distant obstetric cover. We estimate that twenty percent of women giving birth in a MLU may require urgent transfer to obstetric care during labour. There were no significant socio economic differences. Much of the risk can be mitigated though robust risk management policies. Additional travelling distances and costs could affect lower socio-economic groups the greatest because of lower car ownership and geographical location in relation to the units. There is potential that with improved community antenatal and post natal care, population outcomes could improve significantly, the available evidence supports this view.

Conclusion

Available evidence suggests that maternity reconfiguration towards enhanced community care could have many potential benefits but carries risk. Investment is needed to realise the former and mitigate the latter.

The usefulness of this Health Impact Assessment may have been impeded by its timing, and the politically charged environment of the proposals. Nonetheless, the methods used are readily applicable to assess the impact of other service reconfigurations. The analysis was simple, not time intensive and used routinely available data. Careful consideration should be given to both the timing and the political context in which an analysis is undertaken.