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UK government pledges to improve maternity services after damning report

Measures to be taken on a national level to further improve safety standards in maternity care

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The UK government will take nationwide action to improve maternity services across the NHS following concerns about the quality of care provided by a trust in the South East of England. 

The government has published its full response to an independent review – led by former regional director of public health, Dr Bill Kirkup – into maternity failings at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust.

The review, launched because of concerns about the quality of care being provided by the trust, found that at least 45 babies might have survived with better care at East Kent NHS.

In response, women’s health minister, Maria Caulfield, has announced she will chair a new group overseeing maternity services nationwide with the aim of bringing together key people from the NHS and other organisations.

The initiative will look across work being carried out by a range of programmes set up to improve maternity and neonatal care, including the implementation of Dr Kirkup’s and other recommendations.

“Every woman deserves to feel confident in the care they and their baby receive,” Caulfield said in a statement.

“I’d like to thank Dr Kirkup and all those involved in investigating the circumstances behind what’s happened in these horrendous cases.

“In particular, I’d like to thank the women and their families, who have gone through so much pain, for engaging with the investigation and helping it reach its findings.

“I’m determined to see safety standards in maternity and neonatal care improve across the country. While this invaluable report focuses on the situation in East Kent, I want to see its recommendations implemented nationwide.”

In East Kent in particular, the minister said she would chair a local forum bringing together local NHS representatives, the Care Quality Commission and local MPs to share information and updates on the improvements being made to maternity services.

She has also appointed Kirkup to lead work with healthcare partners in response to two of the key recommendations, helping to ensure teams in maternity and neonatal care across England can work together more collaboratively.

Organisations from across the health and care system – including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives – have been asked by the government to support its efforts to promote and improve team-working in healthcare settings.

Royal colleges, professional regulators and employers have also been asked to investigate how they can improve workplace culture so standards of professional behaviour in maternity and neonatal settings are high. They will consider what appropriate action can be taken if high standards fail to be met.

Kirkup said: “I see the government’s response to ‘Reading the signals’ as an important step forward in addressing the issues that I identify.

“I welcome the opportunity to lead this significant work and I look forward to drawing together an action group to advise me in doing so.”

Dr Matthew Jolly, national clinical director for maternity review and women’s health at NHS England, said: “We welcome the government’s response to Dr Bill Kirkup’s report – the failings in care for women, babies and their families using East Kent Hospital must not continue to be repeated.

“NHS England has installed an improvement director at the trust alongside a senior advisor, and both are providing expert practical advice to the organisation on the actions it needs to implement to improve its maternity and neonate care, while senior national NHS clinical leaders are regularly visiting both maternity units to monitor progress.

“In March, we published a delivery plan for maternity and neonatal care, which sets out what the NHS will do over the next three years to make care safer, more personalised and more equitable for all women, babies and families.”

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Singapore-based fertility centre sets up grant for couples struggling to conceive

This grant aims to support eligible Singaporean couples facing financial and family planning challenges

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A Singapore-based fertility centre is to set up a grant to support couples struggling to conceive.

Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore (VFCS) announced that it would set up a grant to support aspiring parents on their IVF journey.

The initial grant is set for at $50,000 SGD and, depending on the take-up rate over the next 12 fiscal months, VFCS plans to increase the pool to benefit more couples in the subsequent years.

The grant will cover the main costs associated with IVF treatments and procedures, including embryo retrieval and transfer, laboratory services and embryo prep. It will also be applicable to fresh and frozen egg transfers.

As grant recipients, their samples will similarly be given a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, a service VFCS provides for all its patients. It locks the patient’s identity with the respective sample. The RFID identifies gametes—eggs, sperms, or embryos—at every stage of the IVF treatment.

According to VFCS, the grant will also include access to counselling services and wellness resources.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the emotional toll and occasional frustration that infertility can take on individuals and couples, especially for some who are still young and healthy,” said Dr Roland Chieng, medical director at VFCS.

“The common deterrent of going for fertility treatment is always associated with the cost, more so in a private care setting where their only source of funds is through Medisave.

“By alleviating their financial concerns, we hope ReadyBaby Fertility Grant empowers patients to approach their IVF journey, focusing on their clinical needs and working towards a healthy pregnancy and less on financials.

“With access to the necessary treatments and support, patients can embark on their path to parenthood with renewed confidence, knowing they have the clinical resources and guidance they need to navigate this journey,” he added.

Tim Kwan, VFCS’s managing director, said: “We believe every couple deserves the opportunity to experience the profound joy of parenthood.

“With the ReadyBaby Fertility Grant, we aim to support aspiring couples on their IVF journey and help them bring new life into the world.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be married Singaporean couples diagnosed with medical infertility by a fertility specialist and first-time parents who have not tried IVF before.

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Canadian insurer launches partnership to support women’s health

Members of the Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross will have access to a dedicated women’s health platform

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Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving

The Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross (MBC) has partnered with the virtual health platform sanoLiving to support women on their menopause journey.

Currently, more than 10 million Canadian women are navigating menopause, often with little support and misinformation about treatments.

With sanoMidLife, sanoLiving’s online menopause platform, Medavie Blue Cross members will have access to a national women’s health platform tailored to provide care and services for women going through the menopause.

The service includes personalised assessments, access to clinicians, treatments, educational content, peer support and AI assistance.

“Many women lack support for their menopause transition due to the misunderstandings of what is ‘normal’ and misinformation about treatments,” said Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving.

“Women are seeking solutions that allow them to thrive during midlife. We are thrilled about our alliance with Medavie Blue Cross, and our shared commitment to providing access to care that empowers women.”

Anita Swamy, senior vice president operations at Medavie Blue Cross, added: “We’ve heard first-hand from our members about the need for more menopause-related services.

“Our partnership with sanoLiving creates an innovative way to increase access to care for our members as we continue to focus on the support women need to navigate their benefits and provide forward-thinking options to support their health.”

Studies report one in 10 women exit the workforce due to unmanaged symptoms. Early onset of menopause and symptoms before age 45 can elevate the risk of health issues like heart disease, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis.

With this new service, Medavie Blue Cross and sanoLiving are aiming to open up the conversation around menopause, reduce stigma and work towards giving women the access to the care they need.

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US start-up raises US$2.32m to address pelvic health concerns

The Flyte intravaginal device aims to treat stress urinary incontinence and strengthen pelvic floor muscles

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The US women’s health start-up Pelvital has raised US$2.32m in funding to address “unanswered” pelvic health issues.

Minnesota-based Pelvital aims to restore pelvic health with its first product Flyte, an FDA-cleared intravaginal treatment for stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and weakened pelvic floor muscles.

The device, originally developed by physicians from the Arctic University of Norway, uses mechanotherapy, a treatment modality that when paired with an active pelvic floor contraction stimulates tissue regeneration and the creation of neuromuscular memory.

The company will use the funding to speed up the commercialisation of Flyte and raise awareness of pelvic health issues.

“Completing this round is an important step in continuing Pelvital’s unwavering dedication to provide women with innovative solutions for pelvic health, including the treatment of SUI,” said Lydia Zeller, president and CEO of Pelvital.

“This funding will play a crucial role in accelerating our commercialisation of Flyte with a strong emphasis on expanding payor coverage and enhancing clinical education and clinician awareness.”

With this final close, Zeller said, Pelvital would welcome new investors including Pier 70 Ventures, Life Science Angels, Tech Coast Angels Orange County, and Blue Pacific Fund.

Preetha Ram, managing partner at Pier 70 Ventures, would join the Pelvital board of directors.

“Joining Pelvital’s board alongside this investment round is truly an honour,” Ram shared.

“Pier 70 and I are thrilled to be part of this transformational opportunity, as Pelvital’s mission aligns beautifully with our dedication to support disruptive technologies that shake up the status quo in healthcare.

“Pelvital’s pioneering work is shaping a future where women’s health receives the attention and innovation it deserves with novel medical devices like Flyte.”

Oscar Moralez, founder and managing partner of Boomerang Ventures who led the investment round, said: “We are thrilled for the successful completion of this round as we aim to tackle the most pressing healthcare challenges.

“Our participation aims to address the chronic underfunding in women’s healthcare. Investing in Flyte, a truly groundbreaking treatment, addresses underserved pelvic health issues like SUI and contributes to raising vital awareness.”

Two published clinical trials have validated Flyte’s safety, efficacy and durability of treatment effect for women with SUI.

Most recently Pelvital published a paper in Therapeutic Advances in Urology, showing that 71 per cent of study participants achieved dry or near dry conditions as evidenced by a reduction in 24-hour pad weight after using Flyte for between two and 12 weeks.

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