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What are women saying about postnatal care?

Update from Care Opinion

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Today we publish a report of women’s experiences of hospital postnatal care.

The report highlights a range of issues in postnatal care, from the perspective of women and their partners, based on stories posted from across the UK on Patient Opinion.

The impact of postnatal care on a women’s overall maternity experience

This report is timely, following the publication of the National Maternity Review by NHS England last month and the review of Maternity and Neonatal services currently underway in Scotland. Significantly, that review identified the need for “better postnatal and perinatal mental health care, to address the historic underfunding and provision in these two vital areas”. It notes that “patient experience data suggests this part [postnatal care] of the maternity pathway shows significant scope for improvement.”

Likewise, the report we publish today clearly demonstrates the impact of postnatal care on a woman’s confidence to care for her new baby. And this impact can be positive or negative.

For example, one woman wrote about her experience of care: “When I was discharged I was a physical and emotional wreck and ended up suffering from postnatal depression."

Why is this report unusual?

Today’s report is unusual in two respects.

First, it was carried out by Joanna Fawcett, a third year Sheffield medical student, during her four week “social accountability placement” with Patient Opinion. Despite limited time and support, Joanna was able to complete an insightful and powerful analysis of women's experiences, and we are deeply indebted to her.

Second, this research project is based entirely on stories posted by women or their partners on a public website. This has both advantages and disadvantages for the research process.

The key advantages are of course cost and speed: these stories are already available and are freely accessible to all. They are in the public domain, and no complex ethics or governance processes are required to use them. This makes Patient Opinion an ideal resource for projects which are tightly constrained by lack of time or resource.

But there are some disadvantages too. Stories on Patient Opinion are already told, and authors cannot be contacted further. So what you see is what you get: the researcher cannot pursue a specific issue further, or probe for more information about an intriguing comment.

A growing public resource

I have previously argued that Patient Opinion enables a wide range of studies of patient experience to be carried out easily and at low cost. And the number of stories available grows every day. There are now over 140,000 stories online and searchable (including those from NHS Choices). We recently enhanced our search capabilities to support researchers further.

If you’d like to use Patient Opinion for your own research projects, do let us know. We’ll be happy to share the results more widely via this blog.

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