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Find out what happened at our event about digital screening information for pregnant women

A woman's head in front of binary code showing zeroes and ones
From 2020, pregnant women will get screening information in digital format by default.

As part of our work to move to digital antenatal and newborn screening information, we held an event for Trust screening co-ordinators recently in Birmingham. It was great to see so many of you there and to generate such useful discussion and feedback to help shape this important project.

We also had fun getting delegates to vote and provide instant feedback to the speakers on their phones. Who could have guessed that most people would have preferred to be on a beach than at our event on a damp October afternoon!

Jo Harcombe chaired the event, with speakers including:

Here are the slides:

User research

Liane Powell ran through the user research that Public Health England (PHE) has carried out so far. Our aim is to get as much information as possible from midwives and from pregnant women about what they want from screening information.

Research has included:

  • a survey with antenatal and newborn screening co-ordinators
  • focus groups with women who speak English as a second language and who live in an area of greater deprivation
  • in depth interviews with screening co-ordinators
  • face to face discussions with women attending an antenatal clinic

We received comments such as:

  • “everything’s online now”
  • “physical leaflets get lost”
  • “I trust information on GOV.UK”
  • “women get bombarded with leaflets”
  • “it’s never an issue accessing the internet, even hospitals have WIFI”

The vast majority of women that we spoke to rated the content of the current version highly. Feedback was largely positive from everyone about moving towards more digital information and away from printed resources.

We’re planning pilots for early 2020 and launch of the new digital first process around May 2020. Many thanks to those of you who've volunteered to help with piloting! We’ll be in touch with you soon.

Digital inclusion

Helen Dobson explained the work of Citizens Online in preventing people from being disadvantaged as services move online.

She shared this thought-provoking video about the ongoing shift to digital around the world. Who would guess that most of today's college students have never licked a postage stamp, or that more people own a mobile device than a toothbrush?!

Helen talked about how there is less risk moving to digital information for pregnant women. This is because they’re generally younger and tech-savvy. But there are still young people who do not have digital skills. Evidence suggests that some are very good at social media but lack skills in more complex tasks like filling in forms.

When asked about their attitude to digital technology for maternity care, almost 90% of women said “I would like to use digital technology to understand my choices and enable me to meet my / family’s needs”.

But while there’s less risk of disadvantaging pregnant women by this change, we’re not complacent. Citizens Online will be carrying out a comprehensive equalities impact assessment and providing recommendations to PHE. It will shortly be launching some online surveys, so please do provide your feedback when we blog about these.

Screening tests for you and your baby

Nick Johnstone-Waddell talked about PHE’s Screening tests for you and your baby leaflet and how it’s changing to go digital. It’s hard to believe the first version was all the way back in 2008 (that was the year that Barack Obama became US president – a lot’s happened around the world since then!).

As we’ve blogged about before, the new accessible webpage (HTML) format leaflet is much better for blind and visually-impaired people. And it incorporates the very popular animation (we’ll be making a few improvements to this based on the recent consultation).

Nick presented 4 models of how pregnant women get booked in for antenatal care. These were based on discussions with midwives and local screening co-ordinators and were:

  • electronic self-referral, where a newly pregnant woman completes an online form to generate a booking appointment
  • midwife-led referral, where a woman may speak to a midwife by phone and then get a booking appointment sent to her by letter
  • GP-led referral, where a woman gets an appointment after being referred by her GP following a consultation
  • mixed approach, incorporating different aspects of the other models

We recognise that no 2 Trusts will use exactly the same model but the models highlight some of the main similarities and differences. Despite their differences in terms of electronic and manual processes, all the models have scope to allow Trusts to move to providing digital information for most women.

Whatever approach you’re using, what’s important is that you use our national screening information rather than developing your own. This enables us to ensure that all women get accurate, consistent information and get the most benefit from antenatal and newborn screening.

Midwives’ crucial role

Annette McHugh closed the day with a fantastic summary of the event and how midwives can take the lead in helping PHE to successfully complete this important project.

Feedback and questions

It was fantastic to hear from all the talented and experienced midwives at the event. Overall, there was huge support for the project but obviously some challenges identified along the way. Topics raised in the discussions included:

  • how we can promote the digital information so women see it prior to their booking appointment
  • dealing with people, for instance from certain religious groups, who consciously choose not to use the internet
  • lack of laptops and digital access for some midwives
  • making sure that the translations use language that most women understand
  • engaging with GPs so they understand the changes and how they can help
  • the importance of animation and video content
  • training, resources and promotional tools for midwives
  • making sure that Trusts ask women for consent to use electronic communications and understand their preferences
  • getting support and buy-in from senior colleagues at Trusts
  • building links to online screening information into paper-based and electronic pregnancy notes

Next steps

As midwives and screening co-ordinators, please continue to read our blog articles to find out about progress with moving to digital screening information. As ever, please pass your comments, questions and suggestions to us via the screening helpdesk.

We would also particularly ask screening co-ordinators to provide copies of any webpage, letter, email or SMS templates used by their Trusts to communicate with women about screening so that we can start to work on new versions that include digital signposting to screening information.

Following from the event, PHE will:

  • talk to those of you who’ve kindly agreed to consider being a pilot site in the new year and planning exactly how the pilots will work
  • refine the 4 models we presented to provide case studies and support for Trusts to move to digital information
  • formally write to all Heads of Midwifery to explain the project and ask for their support
  • develop standard templates and wording to signpost to the new digital leaflet from trust websites and in texts and emails
  • work on new animations to further improve the digital content
  • consider how best to get the online information link to women so they do not need to type it in (this could include QR codes, for instance)

PHE Screening blogs

PHE Screening blogs provide up to date news from all NHS screening programmes. You can register to receive updates direct to your inbox, so there’s no need to keep checking for new blogs. If you have any questions about this blog article, or about population screening in England, please contact the PHE screening helpdesk.

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  1. Comment by Richard Denyer-Bewick posted on

    As a follow up we're inviting public and professional opinions on the England screening programme information leaflets. You can complete the survey here:

    Rich, Operations Director, Citizens Online

  2. Comment by Nick Johnstone-Waddell posted on

    Thanks, Daniel. We'd love to talk to maternity system providers about this project so please contact our helpdesk ( to arrange an opportunity for us to have a chat.

  3. Comment by Daniel Cooper posted on

    This was a great blog post. We are working on an update of our personal health record for women during their pregnancy journey, and from the start, we have wanted to include the right information at the right time. We have already signposted to your screening information, but we would love to see what your thoughts are and if there is anything else that we may be able to do in the future to better support this.
    Would you be open to a discussion? It would be great to get your input.