Bevan Healthcare’s successful preconception programme, ‘Starting Well,’ is set to expand, bringing its benefits to an even larger audience in Bradford.

The ‘Starting Well’ initiative empowers women and their families to enhance their physical, psychological, and social well-being before embarking on pregnancy.

Currently catering to more than 5,500 individuals from ethnically diverse and highly deprived communities, including those facing homelessness, refugees, and individuals seeking asylum, the practice addresses disparities in maternal, perinatal, and child health outcomes.

Since 2016, Bevan has been dedicated to preconception care, annually assisting over 700 women in Bradford, with an initial 23 women from marginalized backgrounds participating in the inaugural Starting Well workshops. The ongoing expansion of the programme will extend support to a larger population in Bradford.

The programme’s primary objectives are to ensure successful and healthy pregnancies and enhance the lifelong health of children. Families are provided with support and encouraged to take charge of their health needs. Practice staff, including GPs, nurse practitioners, social prescribers, and care coordinators, undergo training to address complex needs, experiences, and life circumstances, ensuring individuals receive the appropriate care. Additionally, community champions with lived experiences and strong community connections are educated to disseminate information about preconception health within their communities.

Dr Anne Connolly MBE, Bevan GP and Leading Women’s Health Expert said: “There are many inequalities all women experience in society but there are inequalities within inequalities for the women we serve at Bevan who include refugees, asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness, sex workers and Gypsy, Romany and Traveller groups.

“Bevan patients have often experienced trauma or have complex needs such as addictions and mental health problems. The aim of Starting Well is to provide preconception care for marginalised women and their families to empower them to improve outcomes of future generations by optimising their physical, social and psychological wellbeing prior to conception. We also want to enable women to access contraception, if that is what they want so that women become pregnant by choice and not by chance.”

Identifying issues faced by women concerning preconception care, such as unplanned pregnancies, barriers to accessing care, and a lack of awareness regarding appropriate contraception, the Bevan team is committed to addressing these challenges.

Sadhana Patel, Children and Young People’s Lead at Bevan said: “We have found that a significant proportion of the populations we work with have never considered planning for pregnancy. For them, it’s something that just happens and so Starting Well is about giving families a package of support so they can choose when to become pregnant and if it is the right thing for them at that time. Should they wish to become pregnant then we will work with families to ensure they are in the best possible position to have a healthy pregnancy and child.”

Speaking about the Starting Well programme, one participant said: “It taught me a lot and most especially to respect each other with love, care and understanding. To trust each other and be able to make decisions together either with a friend, husband, boyfriend, or your children.”

Another said: “I feel angry when I think about my past and what I went through. Every time I think about the past it makes me sad. I will now try to leave it in the past and live in the present. I want to have an identity so I can find out who I am and find my purpose.”

An ongoing local campaign, ‘It’s a GP Practice Thing,’ aims to raise public awareness of how GP practices, including community-based, non-medical support services, are working to meet people’s needs.