Background: A number of lifestyle modifications and medical interventions can be of benefit to maternal and neonatal health, when applied prior to conception. These include smoking cessation, supplementation with folic acid, cessation or moderation of alcohol intake and improvement of diabetic control. However, preconception care (PCC) is not widely practised in the UK, despite being apparently acceptable to health professionals and to women of childbearing age.
Objectives: The aims of the study were to describe the current practice of PCC in Barnsley and to assess the beliefs and attitudes of primary health care practitioners. This information would help direct appropriate educational and clinical governance intervention to this service in the locality in the light of other evidence about the effectiveness of PCC.
Methods: A questionnaire was devised to explore the beliefs about, and practice in providing, PCC in primary care in the Barnsley Health Authority area and sent to all known GPs, practice nurses (PNs), health visitors (HVs) and midwives (MWs) in practices in the area in July 2000. A total of 163 completed questionnaires were received (one reminder, response rate 60.1%).
Results: Few practices had a written policy on PCC. Most respondents were providing it mainly on an opportunistic basis and had done so less than five times in the previous 3 months; GPs and PNs were most commonly involved. They agreed that advice about smoking, drug use, folic acid, genetic counselling, chronic disease, alcohol, and maternity care and screening for rubella, genital infections, hepatitis, human immunodeficiency virus and cervical cytology were important. They felt that advice about diet, exercise, supplements, food safety, occupational hazards and State benefits, and screening for nutritional status were less important. Although respondents felt that PCC was effective, and important to women of childbearing age, it was not a high priority in their workload. They indicated that this care was best provided in general practice and that they had the appropriate skills. Barriers to providing PCC included lack of resources and lack of contact with women planning to conceive. Few had received any training on PCC since qualifying in their discipline.
Conclusions: The practitioners who responded to this survey agreed to a large extent about the importance of the subject, and about the content and effectiveness of PCC. Factors hindering the delivery of this service include resource constraints, lack of training and practice policies and procedures, and difficulty in targeting couples planning conception. Further research is needed into ways to increase the provision and uptake of PCC.