Giving virtual consultations in maternity

Maternity Services

New guidance for midwives on virtual consultations has been published by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). The guidance outlines how midwives can conduct virtual consultations and when they are appropriate, while ensuring care is safe and of high quality. It also stresses the continuing importance of in person appointments, and advises on situations when these may be more suitable than virtual or telephone consultations.

The RCM has published the guidance following a large rise in the use of video technology in maternity services during the pandemic. NHS England/NHS Improvement statistics suggest there have been around 10,000 video consultations in England’s maternity services between April and June this year.

Hermione Jackson, Digital Midwifery Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We have developed this guidance so that midwives have the information they need to determine the type of appointment that may be suitable, in discussion with the woman. There may be times, such as when you may need to discuss sensitive issues such as FGM or domestic violence, or when a physical examination is needed, that only an in-person appointment is suitable.

“There may be other situations when an in-person appointment may not be possible such as when a woman is isolating or shielding due to COVID-19,” added Hermione. “The key element is to tailor the type of appointment to the woman’s individual needs and ensure safe care,” she said.

The guidance stresses that virtual appointments can also offer more choice for women, such as reducing the need to travel long distances to see her midwife. However, in-person maternity care cannot be overlooked. NICE antenatal guidelines recommend eight in person appointments during pregnancy. During the pandemic, the RCM and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued joint temporary guidance, reducing in-person antenatal appointments to six, but highlighted the importance of maintaining the eight appointments where possible. This is especially important for vulnerable women and those with existing medical problems.

Hermione added: “There is no doubt that virtual consultations are here to stay and are a useful enhancement to care and choice. Using them is about finding a balance between ensuring the safest possible care and at the same time giving the women the support they need, how they need it, and safely.”

Read the RCM guidance on virtual consultations for more information.

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