Redesigning postnatal care: a randomised controlled trial of protocol-based midwifery-led care focused on individual women's physical and psychological health needs

C MacArthur, H R Winter, D E Bick, R J Lilford, R J Lancashire, H Knowles, D A Braunholtz, C Henderson, C Belfield, H Gee
Health Technology Assessment: HTA 2003, 7 (37): 1-98

OBJECTIVES: To develop, implement and test the cost-effectiveness of redesigned postnatal care compared with current care on women's physical and psychological health.

DESIGN: A cluster randomised controlled trial, with general practice as the unit of randomisation. Recruited women were followed up by postal questionnaire at 4 and 12 months postpartum and further data collected from midwife and general practice sources.

SETTING: Thirty-six randomly selected general practice clusters in the West Midlands Health Region, UK.

PARTICIPANTS: All women expected to be resident within recruited practices for postnatal care were eligible for inclusion. Attached midwives recruited 1087 women in the intervention and 977 in the control practice clusters.

INTERVENTIONS: The systematic identification and management of women's health problems, led by midwives with general practitioner contact only when required. Symptom checklists and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) were used at various times to maximise the identification of problems, and individual care and visit plans based on needs. Evidence-based guidelines were used to manage needs. Care was delivered over a longer period.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Women's health at 4 and 12 months, assessed by the Physical and Mental Component Scores (PCS and MCS) of the Short-Form 36 (SF-36) and the EPDS. Women's views about care, reported morbidity at 12 months, health service usage during the year, 'good practice' indicators and health professionals' views about care were secondary outcomes.

RESULTS: At 4 and 12 months postpartum the mean MCS and EPDS scores were significantly better in the intervention group and the proportion of women with an EPDS score of 13+ (indicative of probable depression) was significantly lower relative to controls. The physical health score (PCS) did not differ. Health service usage was significantly less in the intervention group as well as reported psychological morbidity at 12 months. Women's views about care were either more positive or did not differ. Intervention midwives were more satisfied with redesigned care than control midwives were with standard care. Intervention care was cost-effective since outcomes were better and costs did not differ substantially.

CONCLUSIONS: The redesigned community postnatal care led by midwives and delivered over a longer period, resulted in an improvement in women's mental health at 4 months postpartum, which persisted at 12 months and at equivalent overall cost. It is suggested that further research should focus on: the identification of postnatal depression through screening; whether fewer adverse longer term effects might be demonstrated among the children of the women who had the intervention care relative to the controls; testing interventions to reduce physical morbidity, including studies to validate measures of physical health in postpartum women. Further research is also required to investigate appropriate postnatal care for ethnic minority groups.

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