Building a Better Health Service

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Mothers and staff join to share maternity experience

whose shoes web

Some of those who participated in the ‘Whose Shoes’ event which hosted by the Maternity Unit in University Hospital Galway and facilitated by Croi.

Communication is key to improving our maternity services, healthcare professionals and patients have agreed.

Midwives, doctors, physios, dieticians and new parents ( joined by their babies)  were among those who came together for the first ever Whose Shoes event at University Hospital Galway (UHG). Its aim is to help improve women’s experience of maternity care by building on local relationships and enhancing existing relationships within the services.

Communication emerged as the most dominant theme at the workshop.

“During labour, a midwife would often try to encourage the mum by saying ‘good girl’ and ‘you’re doing great, love’. But mothers explained to us that they were mature, educated women and they didn’t like that type of language being used with them. It was an eye-opener for many midwives and I make sure I don’t speak like that anymore,” said Galway midwife Caroline Hession, who attended the workshop.

“Other comments that we heard were about listening to parents and their choices for the birth, and talking to them after a traumatic birth. We also need to let them know that there are lots of things they can do when it comes to the birth itself – whether it is dimming the lights, having incense burning, or listening to music. We sometimes forget how intimidating it can be for somebody coming into hospital for a birth. They were just some of the suggestions that made me stop and think about how I could improve the way I work.”

It was hoped that the interactive nature of the workshop would help to build respect and foster new relationships between people. It provided the participants with a chance to explore local concerns, challenges, and opportunities, and to work together to achieve positive change, she explained.

All attendees were encouraged to dress casually and to give their name when introducing themselves in order to facilitate an open discussion in an environment where everyone felt safe and comfortable. Women were encouraged to bring their children along.

Caroline said that people came away with a lot of positivity from the day.

“The whole event was about getting other people’s perspectives on things. We had a doula there who felt birth is often too medicalised. We also had a consultant here who explained where the medical staff were coming from and all the guidelines that they had to follow, with the evidence to back it up.”

“We all have our perspective on the maternity services depending on our role in it and Whose Shoes gave us all the opportunity to see where other people were coming from on the issues.”

Other issues that came up included the overuse of medical terminology with patients, birth plans, support in the community, information on services available, dad’s role during and after the birth, and breastfeeding support.

Anna Geyer, one of the facilitators who travelled from England where Whose Shoes has already taken hold, created a wonderful caricature poster board with all the ideas and comments raised.

“Anna put together such an amazing poster and it now takes pride of place in our labour ward. Everyone who comes in stands and reads it and it shows them that they have a voice, that we are listening to their needs and concerns,” said Caroline.

At the end of the event all participants were invited to make a pledge to influence change within the maternity department. A total of 36 pledges were made. Some of the pledges were personal and were reliant on the individual to make changes in their own practice, while others were more practical.  Work is in progress to ensure that some of the practical pledges happen. One midwife pledged to organise a directory of services available for postnatal women on discharge, for example. Another vowed to actively promote skin to skin with both mum and dad after delivery.

Following on from the positive experience of Whose Shoes in UHG, the workshop will now be rolled out nationally through the National Women’s and Infants Health Programme. Already a second and very successful workshop has taken place this month in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe.

“Whose Shoes is spreading and we hope to see it reach all around the country. In our Galway workshop we had Directors of Midwifery from Limerick and Letterkenny who were very interested in bringing it to their hospitals. We are aiming to hold the workshop once a year here in Galway with new participants each time. There is no end to the fresh ideas and perspectives out there,” added Caroline.

This event was funded under the Nursing and Midwifery Service Improvement Innovation Initiative from the Nursing Midwifery Planning and Development Unit, HSE West/Mid-West, along with the Maternity Department in UHG. 

Helen Murphy, Director of Midwifery in UHG planned the event with the support of Carmel Connelly, Parent Education Midwife UHG, and Tara Durkin, Cuidiú, Galway.