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Former teenage mum now midwife spearheading cutting edge campaign to improve birth for disadvantaged and vulnerable women

Midwife Stephanie Heys has developed a digital programme to train fellow professionals
Midwife Stephanie Heys has developed a digital programme to train fellow professionals
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A midwife is using cutting edge technology to help reduce traumatic birth experiences for disadvantaged and vulnerable women across the North West.


The study, being carried out by PhD student Stephanie Heys, assesses the feasibility of developing and using a tailored educational programme to improve training for midwives.

Stephanie with her daughter Abigail

Stephanie with her daughter Abigail

The training aims to reduce the incidence of birth trauma and PTSD whilst tackling health inequalities for women with complex needs in Lancashire.

A nurse since 2009 and a midwife for the past four years at East Lancashire Hospital Trust, Stephanie, who lives in Colne, has developed a Virtual Reality (VR) programme to train current and future midwives by placing them in virtual scenarios from the women’s point of view.

She has now delivered the programme out of the Royal Preston Hospital with 10 midwives, which was very well received, and she is now looking forward to seeing how the final product is received by fellow midwives across the North West region.

Stephanie is also looking forward to involving more maternity trusts in trialling the educational programme with their midwives.

Funded by the National Institute of Health Research, this study is part of a call by the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care North West Coast to co-produce and conduct high-quality, leadership enhancing, applied research designed to decrease health inequalities and improve the health of the population.

Stephanie (34) said: “It has been great to be doing research while also still working as a nurse and a midwife, you get a real insight into wider patient perspectives while doing the day job."

Stephanie became a mum herself at the age of 19 when she had her daughter, Abigail. She started a part-time job as a healthcare assistant at a nursing home when Abigail, now 14, was just eight months old. Stephanie went on to qualify as a nurse in 2009 and worked on the medical assessment unit at the Royal Blackburn Hospital for two years.

After training as a midwife she worked at Burnley General Hospital for three years before winning the funding to undertake a full time doctorate focused on birth trauma and PTSD.

Stephanie, who has a partner, Liam who works for Barnoldswick's Silentnight Group, said: "What inspires me is a passion for improving relationships in practice between women and their midwife.

"Being a midwife I have been privileged to share some of the most magical moments with families, also to help some through the most difficult moments.

"I have a passion for improving women's experience in maternity care ensuring that women have a positive and empowering experience of childbirth.

"Becoming a mother is such a subliminal experience in a woman's life, which can have a profound impact on her sense of self.

"Positive and supportive relationships between women and their midwife during birth are so important.

"I feel I have been extremely lucky in my career and absolutely love being a midwife.

"Although I am now predominantly research-based I still do work clinically as and when I am able."

Stephanie has devised a clinical scenario of a patient during labour which has already been filmed by the media team of University of Central Lancashire under the supervision of its web innovation developers.

The sequence of events within the scenario are based on interviews with local socio-economically disadvantaged women who experienced a traumatic birth. This enabled Stephanie to identify contributory factors to birth trauma amongst these women.

She said:“The aim of the VR programme acts as an innovative and immersive educational training tool, presenting a real world scenario for midwives.

"One that promotes critical reflection and provides the NHS with a reformative approach to education delivery whilst benefitting patient care."

The script and storyboard have been devised by Stephanie and her supervisor Dr Gill Thomson at the university with four professional actors recruited to perform the scenario. The scene tells the story of a woman during her labour experience incorporating contributory factors to trauma within its narrative.

The VR scenario will provide the midwives with a reflective platform upon which to explore interpersonal relationships, current practices and devise agreed ‘practice points’ that will be disseminated back into midwifery teams by participants.

Stephanie,who went to the former Mansfield High School, Brierfield, added: “Pre and post questionnaires and a six week focus group with midwives involved in the training at both trusts provided me with some fantastic feedback from their midwives.

"Their feedback was that the programme enhanced their perceptions and made them critically reflect on their interpersonal interactions between themselves and the women they care for."

Stephanie has also discussed the idea with leading VR multinational conglomerate Samsung and is keen to get additional NHS partners involved. Her idea has already been presented at international conferences to health professionals and due to be showcased at various digital festivals this year.

Stephanie is also hoping to secure post-doc funding to further develop and expand upon her study in 2019.

Stephanie adds: “Digital technology is getting cheaper and becoming embedded in mainstream care and treatment solutions. It can provide enhanced real world scenarios to ensure staff are well prepared for any eventuality.

"Being a midwife means I’ve got a good idea of how real scenarios can be coupled with the right questions to ask.

"I’m really looking forward to seeing how the final product is received by fellow midwives across the North West region.”

If you would like more information about the study you can contact Stephanie at SHeys@uclan.ac.uk