The ASPIRE Covid-19 Study


The ASPIRE COVID-19 study examines how maternity services changed during the COVID-19 pandemic to work out how deliver the best care during future epidemics.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways in which many NHS Trusts provided maternity care in the UK, especially by reducing face-to-face and community care. In the Netherlands, some healthcare organisations took a different approach and increased the amount of community care. This study will examine the pros and cons of both approaches to see what is the best way of providing safe and personalised maternity care during future epidemics. The final output of the research will be a toolkit designed to help organisations to plan more effectively for changes in maternity services.   

The researchers will review guideline documents and ask women, family members, healthcare staff and managers about their experiences of using and delivering maternity services during the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the UK and the Netherlands. In the UK, eight different NHS Trusts will act as case studies. All of this data will be brought together to work out which approaches to changing maternity care were most successful in providing safe and personalised care for women and their families. Sands are supporting the research study to make sure that the perspectives of bereaved parents and families are considered throughout.


More Information

Why do we need this research?
UK policy states that every family should have access to for safe maternity care that can be personalised to their needs. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic face-to-face provision of antenatal and postnatal tests and visits have been reduced in some places, and some women with worrying symptoms have not been going to hospital. Other places are trying new solutions, including remote access technologies. Some Trusts have: reduced community maternity services, including home and birth-centre births; barred birth companions from accompanying their partners during ultrasound scans and in early labour; and reduced or stopped visiting to postnatal and neonatal wards. All of these issues have affected the experiences of women and families and maternity care staff.

In contrast to this approach of decreasing community maternity care in the UK, some parts of the Netherlands have focused on maintaining (as far as possible) community maternity services during the COVID-19 pandemic. By comparing these different approaches in the UK and the Netherlands, the study aims to find out how best to provide care for mothers, babies, and partners during and after a pandemic.


What are the aims of this study?
The overarching aim of the study is to find out how maternity services can provide safe and personalised care to all mothers, babies and families during future epidemics. As part of this, the research team want to establish how and why the different approaches to providing maternity care were taken in the UK and the Netherlands during the COVID-19 pandemic and how these choices affected experiences of women using maternity services and staff working within them. To try and achieve the overall aim, a final model of how maternity and neonatal services can function most effectively will be developed with input from women, families, healthcare professionals and other organisational staff.


What will the researchers do?
The research team will undertake a number of steps to collect data on all aspects of maternity care. They will review relevant documents from organisations to record their responses to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including guidelines, reports and advice, and gather the views of women, families, healthcare professionals and organisational staff through surveys and interviews. This will occur in both the UK and the Netherlands and the findings will be compared. For the UK study, eight cases studies from different Trusts will be explored in detail, with more interviews being carried out and clinical data also being collected, to get an in-depth comparison of different approaches to maternity care during the COVID-19 pandemic within the UK.

The data collected will be analysed to work out how changes to maternity services caused by COVID-19 had positive or negative impacts and whether the approaches taken by organisations were effective in dealing with these. This will be used to create a model and toolkit that can be used by organisations and policy-makers to help them deliver the safe and personalised maternity care in the event of future epidemics.

Sands are represented on the advisory group for the research study and are helping the researchers to ensure that all study materials, including surveys, interviews and the final reports, include and are informed by the experiences of bereaved parents and families.


What do we expect the study to find? 
The study is planning to produce a report on women’s experiences of maternity care before, during and after COVID-19, by country and region. Alongside this will be a report outlining the patterns of how UK NHS Trusts responded to COVID-19 over time. The main output will be the final toolkit for organisations, which will include algorithms, videos, podcasts, hints and tips, advising them on how to best deliver maternity care in the future if similar epidemics or pandemics occur.


Additional information:
Lead researcher – Professor Soo Downe
Institution – UCLan
Funder – Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Duration – 2020 - 2022

For more information please visit the ASPIRE Covid-19 study website.

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