Julie Haigh, Digital Midwife, North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
Shining a spotlight on the unique role of a digital midwife in the NHS
Julie Haigh knew she wanted to be a midwife from the age of 5. But it wasn’t until her 40th birthday that she took destiny into her own hands.
After working in the Royal Airforce until the age of 28, followed by 12 years in HR, she shrugged away any niggling doubts that she wasn’t clever enough and went to train as a midwife. Since then, she’s never looked back.
Not only that, Julie is also a digital midwife. It’s an intriguing job title that has an almost legendary status in the NHS - often there’s only one per trust throughout the UK. She is also the winner of multiple awards, including the prestigious Chief Midwifery Silver Award.
"[Digitalisation] shows gaping holes where we didn't have the information before. You can't hide within a computer system."
So, what does a digital midwife do? “That’s the million-dollar question,” answers Julie, “because it was a word that came out of nowhere. There's a lot of misconceptions about what a digital midwife does. People have even asked me if I deliver babies by computer.”
A digital midwife delivers clinical care but also works with NHS Digital to implement new systems for capturing data. Julie has been involved in setting up a fully digitally managed system for her maternity department, eliminating virtually all paper. She adds: “Our trust was the first in the UK to introduce a full end-to-end maternity system within a six- month period.”
"The negative side is that the time demand has grown exponentially"
Major advantages of going digital include being able to share information between trusts. “We have Scottish and English patients,” states Julie. “Not being able to share records was creating a risk for the women.”
Sharing information has also allowed midwives to become “an amazing network of digital midwives and an expert reference group.” She states: “We all started speaking to each other, and that created a lot of power. We started to refer to ourselves as a digital midwives’ army.”
Digitalisation also ensures patient confidentiality and discretion. Julie remembers how previously “women had to carry a huge folder with them when they attended appointments, which announced to the world that they were pregnant. Now it’s more discreet.”
The biggest challenge of digitalisation is getting people to understand why the data is important. “It’s about data quality,” says Julie. “The information you get is only as good as what's put in. The people who didn't document accurately before struggle now, because they need to document constantly.
“It shows gaping holes where we didn't have the information before. You can't hide within a computer system. The negative side is that the time demand has grown exponentially,” says Julie.
Appointments that previously took only half an hour are currently clocking up over 1.5 hours of midwives’ time, due to the sheer volume of questions asked. Julie states: “The problem is that the midwives feel like they're being used as admin clerks. So, what is the priority, the care a pregnant woman receives or data collection?
"Everything is on a knife’s edge, and it can be taken away from you in a second. Sometimes that’s a dark, lonely place to be"
She answers that question without hesitation: “Our ethos is that it should be patient focused, clinically led, and digitally enabled. The pregnant woman is always at the centre of what we do.”
A strong and vibrant leader for other women, Julie has been forced to fight a number of battles with her own health over the last year, following a diagnosis of breast and lung cancer. Forced to take sick leave from the job she loves, Julie is upbeat and philosophical.
Her advice to other women who may find themselves in a similar situation is simple: “Everything is on a knife’s edge, and it can be taken away from you in a second. Sometimes that’s a dark, lonely place to be. But I found so many people that I didn’t know cared about me. And I didn’t have to be the one doing the caring all the time. Look after yourself because everything else will keep going.”
Genevieve Shaw, Founder & Editor-in-chief
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