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Child Care Health Dev. 2004 Nov;30(6):599-611.

Improving services for disadvantaged childbearing women.

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Mother and Infant Research Unit, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.



Tackling health inequalities is high on the political agenda of the Labour government. The government wants to reduce inequalities through policies based on evidence, the health of childbearing women and their babies being priority areas for action. National Service Frameworks (NSFs) are being set up to ensure high quality services for all groups. The External Working Group looking into maternity services for the Children's NSF seeks evidence upon which to plan strategies for all women, while focusing attention on the most disadvantaged. Wide differentials are noted between high- and low-income groups in the outcomes of pregnancy and the health of babies. The worst outcomes appear to be concentrated in small subgroups of disadvantaged women.


To report on a review of studies of interventions improving perinatal outcomes for disadvantaged women, to inform policy and practice around the organization and delivery of statutory services in the UK.


We searched six relevant databases for reviews, intervention studies, audits and descriptions of services reporting outcomes for disadvantaged groups of women, published between 1990 and 2003. Synthesis was performed around what works and what does not work. Gaps in the evidence base were identified.


We found limited evidence of effective and promising interventions for childbearing women from minority ethnic groups, women experiencing domestic violence, women with mental health illness and HIV infected women. Few studies were well-designed or powered to detect effectiveness. There were no studies of interventions for women prisoners, homeless women and travellers.


Searching for intervention studies primarily by participant subgroup has brought in evidence from few well-designed studies on which to plan policy. Combining this approach with searching for intervention studies addressing behaviour like smoking, and needs like social support, may provide further evidence to tackle inequalities in the perinatal period.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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