High Dependency Care provision in Obstetric Units remote from tertiary referral centres and factors influencing care escalation: A mixed methods study
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Background Due to technological and medical advances, increasing numbers of pregnant and post natal women require higher levels of care, including maternity high dependency care (MHDC). Up to 5% of women in the UK will receive MHDC, although there are varying opinions as to the defining features and definition of this care. Furthermore, limited evidence suggests that the size and type of obstetric unit (OU) influences the way MHDC is provided. There is robust evidence indicating that healthcare professionals must be able to recognise when higher levels of care are required and escalate care appropriately. However, there is limited evidence examining the factors that influence a midwife to decide whether MHDC is provided or a woman’s care is escalated away from the OU to a specialist unit.
Research Aims 1. To obtain a professional consensus regarding the defining features of and definition for MHDC in OUs remote from tertiary referral units. 2. To examine the factors that influence a midwife to provide MHDC or request the escalation of care (EoC) away from the OU.
Methods An exploratory sequential mixed methods design was used: Delphi survey: A three-round modified Delphi survey of 193 obstetricians, anaesthetists, and midwives across seven OUs (annual birth rates 1500-4500) remote from a tertiary referral centre in Southern England. Round 1 (qualitative) involved completion of a self-report questionnaire. Rounds 2/3 (quantitative); respondents rated their level of agreement or disagreement against five point Likert items for a series of statements. First round data were analysed using qualitative description. The level of consensus for the combined percentage of strongly agree / agree statements was set at 80% for the second and third rounds
Focus Groups: Focus groups with midwives across three OUs in Southern England (annual birth rates 1700, 4000 and 5000). Three scenarios in the form of video vignettes were used as triggers for the focus groups. Scenario 1; severe pre-eclampsia, physiologically unstable 2; major postpartum haemorrhage requiring invasive monitoring 3; recent admission with chest pain receiving facial oxygen and continuous ECG monitoring. Two focus groups were conducted in each of the OUs with band 6 / 7 midwives. Data were analysed using a qualitative framework approach.
Findings Delphi survey: Response rates for the first, second and third rounds were 44% (n=85), 87% (n=74/85) and 90.5% (n= 67/74) respectively. Four themes were identified (conditions, vigilance, interventions, and service delivery). The respondents achieved consensus regarding the defining features of MHDC with the exceptions of post-operative care and post natal epidural anaesthesia. A definition for MHDC was agreed, although it reflected local variations in service delivery. MHDC was equated with level 2 care (ICS, 2009) although respondents from the three smallest OUs agreed it also comprised level 1 care. The smaller OUs were less likely to provide MHDC and had a more liberal policy of transferring women to intensive care. Midwives in the smaller OUs were more likely to escalate care to ICU than doctors.
Focus Groups: Factors influencing midwives’ EoC decisions included local service delivery, patient specific / professional factors, and guidelines to a lesser extent. ‘Fixed’ factors the midwives had limited or no opportunity to change included the proximity of the labour ward to the ICU and the availability of specialist equipment. Midwives in the smallest OU did not have access to the facilities / equipment for MHDC provision and could not provide it. Midwives in the larger OUs provided MHDC but identified varying levels of competence and used ‘workarounds’ to facilitate care. A woman’s clinical complexity and potential for physiological deterioration were influential as to whether MHDC was assessed as appropriate. Midwifery staffing levels, skill mix and workload (variable factors) could also be influential. Differences of opinion were noted between midwives working in the same OUs and varying reliance was placed on clinical guidelines.
Conclusion Whilst a consensus on the defining features of, and definition for MHDC has been obtained, the research corroborates previous evidence that local variations exist in MHDC provision. Given midwives from the larger OUs had variable opinions as to whether MHDC could be provided, there may be inequitable MHDC provision at a local level. Organisationally robust systems are required to promote safe, equitable MHDC care including MHDC education and training for midwives and precise EoC guidelines (so workarounds are minimised). The latter must take into consideration local service delivery and the ‘variable’ factors that influence midwives’ EoC decisions.