The effectiveness of a new computer program designed to help minimise human error in the management of women in labour is to be assessed in a clinical trial led by Oxford University.
The £5.9m trial has been commissioned by the National institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) programme.
In use, the program analyses the foetal heart rate and compares this to other information it collects about the labour, such as cervical dilation and the presence of amniotic fluid.
The system then provides the clinician with interpretations and recommendations about care.
Researchers, led by Prof Peter Brocklehurst at Oxford University, will test whether the computer program is effective at improving the care given by midwives and doctors in response to abnormalities in the baby’s heart rate, and whether this will lead to fewer complications during birth.
The research team are looking to recruit around 46,000 women who are having continuous monitoring of their babies' heart rate in labour, at 10 hospitals throughout the UK, over a period of six years. The study will not recruit women who do not require continuous monitoring of their babies’ heart rate during labour.
‘Monitoring a baby’s heart rate during labour as a means to determine whether they are lacking oxygen is a complicated process as some patterns can be the baby’s normal response to the stress of labour. Expertise and experience are essential for accurate interpretation and so mistakes can happen,’ said Prof Brocklehurst of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University.
‘It is vital this research is carried out as this system could provide doctors and midwives with effective support during the management of labour, potentially leading to fewer deaths and reducing the chances of brain damage.'