Background: The Government's policy of Changing childbirth gives priority to user-oriented outcomes, such as continuity of carer. It has been assumed that the organization (or pattern) of maternity care is the main determinant of continuity, with relatively little attention paid to sociodemographic factors. The aim of this study was to assess the relative contribution of social class, spoken language and pattern of care in determining continuity of carer.
Method: Postal questionnaires were sent 14 days after delivery to East London and the City Health Authority residents delivering within a three-week period in May 1994. Bilingual interviews were carried out for non-English-speaking women. Pattern of care was assigned by the midwife as either hospital or community (including team based care, 'domino' and home births). The main outcome measure was self-reported continuity of carer in antenatal, delivery and postnatal care.
Results: The response rate was 69 per cent (370/533). The community pattern of care affected only antenatal continuity (62 per cent community vs 50 per cent hospital, p < 0.05). Women whose main spoken language was English or whose social class was I-IIIn reported higher levels of continuity at each phase of care, although this effect was largely confined to the community pattern of care. The odds ratios (95 per cent confidence intervals) for the effect of social class (I-IIIn vs other) on antenatal, labour and postnatal continuity within the community pattern of care were 3.64 (1.09-12.18), 3.08 (1.09-8.74) and 4.93 (1.48-16.46), respectively.
Conclusion: Spoken English and high social class were associated with continuity of carer, although this effect was mainly confined to women with a community pattern of care. Achievement of national targets for continuity of carer may not be possible in east London without explicit consideration of sociodemographic factors.