Antenatal care of women who use opioids: A qualitative study of practitioners’ perceptions of strengths and challenges of current service provision in Scotland

T. Hughes, A. McFadden, A. Whittaker, J. P. Boardman, L. Marryat (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Background: The increasing rise of women using opioids during pregnancy across the world has warranted concern over the access and quality of antenatal care received by this group. Scotland has particularly high levels of opioid use, and correspondingly, pregnancies involving women who use opioids. The purpose of this study was to investigate the different models of antenatal care for women using opioids during pregnancy in three Scottish Health Board Areas, and to explore multi-disciplinary practitioners’ perceptions of the strengths and challenges of working with women who use opioids through these specialist services.

Methods: Thirteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with health and social care workers who had experience of providing antenatal and postnatal care to women who use drugs across three Scottish Health Board Areas: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Lothian, and NHS Tayside. Framework Analysis was used to analyse interview data. The five stages of framework analysis were undertaken: familiarisation, identifying the thematic framework, indexing, charting, and mapping and interpretation.

Results: Each area had a specialist antenatal pathway for women who used substances. Pathways varied, with some consisting of specialist midwives, and others comprising a multidisciplinary team (e.g. midwife, mental health nurse, social workers, and an obstetrician). Referral criteria for the specialist service differed between health board areas. These specialised pathways presented several key strengths: continuity of care with one midwife and a strong patient-practitioner relationship; increased number of appointments, support and scans; and highly specialised healthcare professionals with experience of working with substance use. In spite of this, there were a number of limitations to these pathways: a lack of additional psychological support for the mother; some staff not having the skills to engage with the complexity of patients who use substances; and problems with patient engagement.

Conclusions: Across the three areas, there appears to be high-quality multi-disciplinary antenatal services for women who use opioids during pregnancy. However, referral criteria vary and some services appear more comprehensive than others. Further research is needed into the perceptions of women who use opioids on facilitators and barriers to antenatal care, and provision in rural regions of Scotland.
Original languageEnglish
Article number75
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2024


  • Opioid-Related Disorders
  • substance use
  • pregnancy
  • prenatal education
  • healthcare disparities
  • health inequalities
  • Pregnancy
  • Substance use
  • Healthcare disparities
  • Opioid-related disorders
  • Health inequalities
  • Prenatal education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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