An update from Tommy’s

Our headline charity Tommy’s has seen a huge rise in urgent calls for help since coronavirus hit the UK, with pregnant women classed as especially vulnerable and maternity care services restricted by social distancing – and since fundraising has taken a hit in the current lockdown, our support is more vital now than ever.

Team Tommy’s in Manchester

Tommy’s Manchester Research Centre and Rainbow Clinic in St Mary’s Hospital continue to drive ground-breaking studies into stillbirth and care for local women who are pregnant after loss. Some clinical researchers have gone back into the NHS to help fight the virus, while more academic scientists are working from home on their studies to help understand and prevent baby loss.

Coronavirus is still so new that it’s too early to say what the long-term effects might be on women who catch it while pregnant – but there is some evidence to suggest it could lead to placenta problems, which Tommy’s experts are investigating further. The Manchester team collected placenta tissue from pregnant women who got sick, and followed up once they had recovered, to study in a new covid-19 clinic.

As the Rainbow Clinic has been so successful in Manchester, reducing stillbirth rate in the city by 34% since 2010, the Tommy’s team is working to roll out this specialist care across the region. The Wigan clinic is already up and running, Bolton is almost ready, and up to 8 hospitals in Greater Manchester are due to follow by the summer.

Impact of the pandemic

Midwives on Tommy’s Pregnancy Line saw a staggering 71% increase in enquiries last month. This number doesn’t include their social media messages from worried parents-to-be and women going through pregnancy loss, which similarly surged.

Coronavirus pages on Tommy’s PregnancyHub have had over 100,000 views, and the charity is also answering expectant parents’ questions to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant through its new Tommy’s Midwife voice skill.

Common problems raised with the Tommy’s midwifery team include: women having a miscarriage at home, or who think they might be miscarrying; early pregnancy worries, such as bleeding and/or pain in the first few weeks; pregnant women with questions or concerns who are reluctant or unable to contact their local GP, midwife or Early Pregnancy Unit because of pressure on the NHS.*

Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin said: “Antenatal care is vital for the wellbeing of mother and baby – but the coronavirus outbreak means that many don’t know who they can ask for help, or don’t want to bother our busy and beloved NHS. The large increase in people contacting us demonstrates that coronavirus is creating extra confusion and anxiety for parents-to-be, making midwives’ expert advice and support even more important at this time.”

* Coronavirus restrictions on hospitals mean there will be fewer non-emergency surgical procedures under general anaesthetic, so women who may otherwise have been treated in hospital are now more likely to have a natural or medical miscarriage at home. Pregnant women who need emergency care for severe pain, heavy vaginal bleeding, possible ectopic or molar pregnancy or other acute symptoms will still be seen and assessed in person – but pain is subjective so women may be unsure whether they can access services.

Virtual support in lockdown

With fake news spreading like wildfire and many people struggling in isolation, the pandemic means extra anxiety for new and expectant parents. Digital support is crucial right now, and just after the UK went into lockdown, ‘Tommy’s Midwife’ voice skill was introduced on Amazon and Google devices.

Tommy’s worked with their midwives and users to develop a Q&A-based voice skill, with over 400 answers on key areas of pregnancy, from morning sickness and mental wellbeing to caesareans and breast feeding. The information is kept updated with latest evidence, such as changes in Government guidance around coronavirus risks to pregnant women.

Although midwives’ expert support is vital, the voice tool does not replace medical advice and Tommy’s is not an emergency service. The charity is concerned mothers and babies could suffer as a result of the pandemic making people reluctant to contact the NHS or attend vital appointments. Pregnant women are urged to seek medical help if they have worrying symptoms.

Latest research breakthrough

Despite changes in the wake of covid-19, Tommy’s researchers are still hard at work and publishing their latest findings. Scientists at Tommy’s London Research Centre have developed a test that can predict premature birth by measuring fetal fibronectin (a protein which acts like a glue to fix the amniotic sac to the womb lining).

When the study was published last month, Tommy’s called for the test to be made standard practice across the UK, so that precious NHS resources can be focused on those most in need. Half of twin pregnancies end in premature births, which raises the risk of serious complications – but current NHS tests are not accurate enough to tell who is really at risk, which means many women endure costly drug treatments and anxious hospital stays only for their babies to arrive on time.

Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin said: “With 60,000 babies born prematurely each year in the UK, this test can reassure women who may otherwise be very anxious about their risk of giving birth early, and may be able to make pregnancy safer for those who do need special care. Everyone should be able to benefit from this pioneering and potentially lifesaving tool.”

This is just a snapshot of the work Tommy’s is doing right now – and at the same time, nearly half the funds they expected to raise this spring are at risk because of events cancelled in lockdown. Your support means more to Tommy’s now than ever.

If you already have a place in the Manchester Half Marathon you can still Join Team Tommy’s by setting up a fundraising page or you can select “Tommy’s VIP Fundraiser Entry” on the entry form if you haven’t already got a place. Thank you for your support.