The ‘Pregnancy Helpers’ hitting Birmingham

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Sandeep and Sameena reach out to Asian women

SAMEENA Kauser beams with pride as she says “I’m helping women to help themselves to a healthier pregnancy.”

Sameena, 30, from Sparkhill, is one of 28 pregnancy outreach workers employed by Gateway Family Services CIC, a social enterprise commissioned by the Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Partnership, who are going out into the communities of Birmingham to help deliver a more community based model of antenatal care

Reducing the high number of infant deaths in the city is a serious subject, and Sameena and colleague Sandeep Gill are well aware of the fact. They know they’ve got their work cut out for them, but they are approaching the project with smiles on their faces, bags of enthusiasm and a wealth of experience in family support services.

The pregnancy outreach workers project was officially rolled out August 1, and Sameena and Sandeep are just beginning to find their feet with their new roles.

“It is a great service. I am surprised it hasn’t been thought of before,” says Sandeep, 26, who qualified as a nurse two years ago. She got involved with the project because she has an interest in midwifery and in her new role she will be liaising with midwives at local GP surgeries, clinics and childcare centres in Sparkbrook and Springfield.

She and the other pregnancy outreach workers will offer a complementary service, with dietary and smoking advice, help with housing and benefits, and, most importantly, being a friendly face to talk to about pregnancy.

Annette Williamson of the Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Partnership explains how around 150 babies a year die in the city area which is double the rate of the national average. This encompasses preterm babies from 24 weeks gestation to babies of 12 months old, but does not include stillbirths.

Annette says underlying factors are complex and include both health and social issues. Services have focussed upon health care until now but social factors such as poor housing, low income, smoking and poor diet need to be addressed.

The Neighbourhood Renewal Fund is financing a programme of twelve projects to bring the number of infant deaths down in 13 wards in Birmingham that need the most support. The pregnancy outreach workers are the most recent development  

Director of Public Health for Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust Dr Jacky Chambers says: “To make a real difference, we need to make sure that women who are most at risk of losing their babies receive better antenatal care .The POW scheme should enable such women to access a much wider range of services than traditional clinic based care

In Sparkbrook and Springfield ward, the pregnancy outreach workers will be based at the Muath Trust on the Stratford Road. Sandeep and Sameena are joined by three others, all with different backgrounds bringing individual skills to the service.

Sandeep says: “After our intensive training we are looking forward to getting out into the health centres. We will complement existing services, but will give pregnant women more chance to talk through any concerns. Twenty per cent of our work will be in clinics but the other 80 per cent will be in the community – in people’s homes, whatever they feel comfortable with.”

Mum-of-two Sameena came to the £800,000 project after working as a volunteer at Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

“Women don’t always know where to go to empower themselves,” says Sameena. “I have been pregnant twice and I didn’t have someone I could talk to about my worries.

“A lot of women live in families where they are not allowed out by themselves, and if there is no one to accompany them to clinics they miss appointments. We will be there to help with that and our group is quite diverse. We have Bengali, Urdu and Punjabi speakers among us and the project is looking for an Arabic speaker too.”

Sameena added: “It is not just about pregnancy but other social issues too. If we can’t do anything ourselves, we have got the facilities to signpost them on.”

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