Birmingham, United Kingdom

Making Maternity Services Migrant-Friendly

West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership

December 3, 2012

Mapping the health needs of migrant communities puts maternal health on the agenda

For many overworked health practitioners, pregnant migrant women with complex needs can often be seen as a difficulty.

In 2006, one-fifth of all births in the West Midlands were to women born outside the UK.

New research highlighted the challenges faced by migrant women giving birth and the complex needs of this frequently marginalized population. For the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership (WMSMP), maternal health became a strategic priority.

WMSMP was created in 1999 in response to the UK’s regional dispersal policy for asylum seekers. In 2007, it expanded its scope to include the integration of refugees and vulnerable migrants. Hosted by the West Midlands Councils, the partnership aims to improve knowledge about migrant populations,, promote access to public services and migrant participation rates through amulti-agency approach that includes statutory service providers such as Primary Care Trusts, voluntary sector organizations and the UK Border Agency.

Identifying the specific needs of migrant populations in the region as they pertained to maternal healthcare was an important early step. In 2008, WMSMP contributed to the first-ever review of the impact of migration on maternal health in Birmingham. The report, “Maternity, mortality and migration: the impact of new communities,” identified a possible link between migration and higher rates of infant mortality. Recommendations tabled with the report included a call for increased coordination between health actors, the need to tackle language barriers, and better information and training to health professionals.

Two years later, the partnership published the Migrant Friendly Maternity Services Toolkit, based on additional recommendations from the University of Birmingham report, “Delivering in an age of super-diversity” (2010).” The toolkit  offered local service providers up-to-date information and guidance on how to deal with migrant populations and learn from successful case studies.

To further its work at the systemic, or institutional level, the WMSMP has also developed a training course to assist health practitioners, community groups and policy makers increase their knowledge and understanding of issues around access to healthcare within migrant communities. Other activities include holding events such as seminars and information sessions as well as channeling local engagement into its partner regional and national bodies.


Other WMSMP projects include the “Hope” project in Birmingham which gives financial support to destitute pregnant women and new mothers to improve their access to healthcare. The Primary Care Trust has also trained women from deprived local communities to become pregnancy outreach workers in order to help women access the required services and support. In Coventry, the MAMTA program aims to empower women and improve maternal and child health for Black and minority ethnic women while another pilot project has midwives working with asylum seekers (securing free training for two groups of midwives in Coventry and Birmingham). Wolverhampton was specifically praised for its commitment to addressing the needs of migrants by the Race for Health peer review of its local health services.

The maternal health strategy is just one of the WMSMP’s many priorities, which include unaccompanied asylum seeking children, migrants who have no recourse to public funds, promoting a refugee and migrant focus to housing and employment organizations, and developing further partnerships in the region. It has also published “Where Our Journeys Meet” (2009), a resource to build understanding about the asylum process and the experiences of people from refugee and migrant backgrounds with material designed to raise awareness, develop practice and dispel myths and misinformation about migrants.

The West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership’s work has been recognized by the International Labour Organization and the Social Care Institute of Excellence.

Making it Work for You:

  • Document and analyze the migrant populations in your area to understand their specific needs for better planning and service delivery
  • Partner with local academic institutions to access quality research and analysis.
  • Reach out to both sides of the equation: migrant communities and service providers.
  • Share what you learn. Document, disseminate and provide training to service providers and front-line workers