Working for patient safety: A qualitative study of women's help-seeking during acute perinatal events

Nicola Mackintosh*, Susanna Rance, Wendy Carter, Jane Sandall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
205 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Women and their relatives can play an important role in early detection and help seeking for acute perinatal events. Recent UK reports indicate that patient-professional partnership in 'working for safety' can be difficult to achieve in practice, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. This research explored the experiences of women and relatives who had experienced early warning signs about their condition and sought help in escalating care. Methods: Secondary analysis of case study data which included qualitative interviews with 22 women purposively sampled on account of experiencing a step up in care and 4 of their relatives from two NHS Trusts in England during 2010. Analysis focused on the type of safety work participants engaged in, and the opportunities and challenges reported by women and family members when negotiating safety at home and in hospital. Results: Women and relatives took on a dual responsibility for self-diagnosis, self-care and seeking triage, whilst trying to avoid overburdening stretched services. Being informed, however, did not necessarily enable engagement from staff and services. The women's narratives highlighted the work that they engaged in to build a case for clinical attention, the negotiations that took place with health care professionals and the strategies women and partners drew on (such as objective signs and symptoms, use of verbal insistence and repetition) to secure clinical help. For some women, the events left them with a lasting feeling that their concerns had been disregarded. Some described a sense of betrayal and loss of trust in an institution they believed had failed to care for them. Conclusion: The notion of 'safety partnerships' which suggests a sense of equality and reciprocity was not borne out by our data, especially with regards to the experiences of teenage women. To enable women and families to secure a rapid response in clinical emergencies, strategies need to move beyond the provision of patient information about warning signs. Effective partnerships for safety may be supported by system level change such as improved triage, continuity of care, self-referral pathways and staff training to address asymmetries of power that persist within the health system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number232
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Early online date17 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2017


  • Early warning signs
  • Help seeking
  • Maternity care
  • Obstetric complications
  • Obstetric emergency
  • Patient safety
  • Safety work
  • User involvement


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