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Empowering change: Realist evaluation of a Scottish Government programme to support normal birth

Cheyne, H., Abhyankar, P. & McCourt, C. (2013). Empowering change: Realist evaluation of a Scottish Government programme to support normal birth. Midwifery, 29(10), pp. 1110-1121. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2013.07.018


Objective: Midwife-led care has consistently been found to be safe and effective in reducing routine childbirth interventions and improving women’s experience of care. Despite consistent UK policy support for maximising the role of the midwife as the lead care provider for women with healthy pregnancies, implementation has been inconsistent and the persistent use of routine interventions in labour has given rise to concern. In response the Scottish Government initiated Keeping Childbirth Natural and Dynamic, a maternity care programme that aimed to support normal birth by implementing multi-professional care pathways and making midwife-led care for healthy pregnant women the national norm.

Design: The evaluation was informed by realist evaluation. It aimed to explore and explain the ways in which the KCND programme worked or did not work in different maternity care contexts.

Methods: The evaluation was conducted in three phases. In phase one semi- structured interviews and focus groups were conducted with key informants to elicit the programme theory. At phase two, this theory was tested using a multiple case study approach. Semi-structured interviews and focus groups were conducted and a case record audit was undertaken. In the final phase the programme theory was refined through analyses and interpretation of the data.

Setting and participants: The setting for the evaluation was NHS Scotland. In phase one, 12 national programme stakeholders and 13 consultant midwives participated. In phase two case, studies were undertaken in three health boards; overall 73 participants took part in interviews or focus groups. A case record audit was undertaken of all births in Scotland during one week in two consecutive years before and after pathway implementation.

Findings: Government and health board level commitment to, and support of, the programme signalled its importance and facilitated change. Consultant midwives tailored change strategies, using different approaches in response to the culture of care and inter-professional relationships within contexts. In contexts where practice was already changing KCND was seen as validating and facilitating. In areas where a more medical culture existed there was strong resistance to change from midwives and medical staff and robust implementation strategies were required. Overall the pathways appeared to enable midwives to achieve change.

Key conclusions: Our study highlighted the importance of those involved in a change programme working across levels of hierarchy within an organisation and from the macro-context of national policy and institutions to the meso-context of regional health service delivery and the micro-context of practitioner’s experiences of providing care. The assumptions and propositions that inform programmes of change, which are often left at a tacit level and unexamined by those charged with implementing them, were made explicit. This examination illuminated the roles of the three key change mechanisms adopted in the KCND programme - appointment of consultant midwives as programme champions, multidisciplinary care pathways, and midwife-led care. It revealed the role of the commitment mechanism, which built on the appointment of the local change champions. The analysis indicated that the process of change, despite these clear mechanisms, needed to be adapted to local contexts and responses to the implementation of KCND.

Implications for practice: Initial formative evaluation should be conducted prior to development of complex healthcare programmes to ensure that 1. The interventions will address the changes required 2. Key stakeholders who may support or resist change are identified 3. Appropriate facilitation strategies are developed tailored to context.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Realist evaluation, normal birth, midwife-led care
Subjects: R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
SWORD Depositor:
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