Volunteers are connecting with diverse communities to improve services for mothers and babies in Aneurin Bevan health board.
Babi (Birth and Bump Improvement) is a group of mothers and mothers-to-be who meet with staff from maternity services at Aneurin Bevan UHB to share experiences, give feedback and suggest service improvements.
Alex Coetsee, herself a mother of three young children and Vice-Chair of Babi since it began in 2019, was aware of its limitations, however. ‘The service users who engaged with the group were mainly white and Welsh – not at all reflective of the multicultural population around Newport.’
Alex and consultant midwife Emma Mills were concerned that basic information was not reaching those who most need it. Although freely available in leaflets and on websites in multiple languages, a lack of access to the right information at the right time is contributing to inequity in health outcomes. The risks of maternal and perinatal deaths, for example, are known to be higher for some groups than others.
Alex and Emma were determined to find better ways of engaging with women at greater risk and when they found out about funding through a Safer Beginnings grant, they saw their chance
The main project objective was to increase the diversity of the service user forum by involving volunteers (Babi buddies) who were able to represent the views of others in their communities.
It was important to the vision of the project that volunteers would be able to shape it themselves and develop their own role as ‘link people’ within their communities. The funding meant they could do this, enabling the team to keep an open minded view of how the project would evolve and the outcomes it would achieve.
BUILDING UP THE VOLUNTEER TEAM
They looked for volunteers through a range of channels, including midwives. Alex and Emma had an initial, informal chat with each volunteer, then DBS checks and general induction training were carried out by the health board volunteering team. Finally, role-specific training was delivered for the project in a half-day session with Alex and Emma and gave them a chance to get to know one another better as a group.
Kerry Jeffries, Assistant Directorate Manager for maternity services, plays a key role in coordinating the project and communicating with volunteers. She says ‘volunteers were given iPads and a health board email address to use in relation to their volunteering. Their first task was to design a poster in their own language and to explore, individually and together, how their role might look.’
VOLUNTEERS REACHING OUT
Five active volunteers in the project have seized opportunities and developed their role in different ways:
Maria, a Russian volunteer, completed breast feeding support training and set up a local group in conjunction with the local Flying Start initiative.
Michaela, from Romania, explains to people how maternity services work here. She has contacted the Romanian Embassy in Wales to spread the message.
Aleksandra accompanied consultant midwife Emma when Polish women were considering their birth choices. Although an interpreter can accurately translate, understanding the context can be more challenging and they cannot engage in conversation effectively as a Babi buddy volunteers such as Alexandra can.
Another volunteer, Itala, has set up a Facebook group for Hungarian mothers across Wales.
CO-PRODUCTION IN ACTION
As part of their role, volunteers attend the online Babi forum regularly, bringing with them insights, concerns and voices from their various communities.
Emma and colleagues from maternity services also attend, which means that issues can heard and responded to immediately, in a friendly environment based on trust and common purpose.
‘Working with the Babi forum has immense value for us’ said Emma. ‘We have been able to make many improvements to services. Some women have felt isolated in the single rooms of the maternity ward, for example, and we found ways to address that.’
‘We continually gain insights which are really important for midwives to understand, like the cultural reasons why women might have a fear of professionals, or why some women associate more medical intervention with better health care’.
Alex said ‘having the consultant midwife in our meetings is key. People can see how their feedback is acted on and what value it has.’
Volunteers have gained something from it too, reporting that it has given them a sense of purpose and sisterhood, changing their lives for the better.
The project has successfully brought lesser-heard voices into volunteering, creating roles where they can directly influence service improvement and helping many women from diverse communities.
More volunteers are needed to extend the reach further, however. ‘There are 51 languages spoken in Newport’ ‘explained Emma, ‘Our volunteers don’t yet reflect this breadth.’
‘Our project is like a pilot’ said Emma ‘It’s real teamwork between the health board and users of the service. It should be rolled out to other services and in different health boards’.
The project achieved a Chief Nursing Officer Award for clinical excellence, which is especially impressive given that only ten such awards have ever been given.
‘It’s a massive priority for us in the health board to be multi-cultural and inclusive and I am really proud of that. We have got to keep going and keep doing more.’
Case study by Helpforce Cymru. Helpforce is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.
The Helpforce page on our website includes links to recent articles, blogs and case stories.