4 May 2020

Besides a legal duty of candour, international studies suggest that the disclosure and discussion of harm with those affected can benefit them. Such discussions may also improve patient safety and reduce prolonged and costly legal claims. However doing this well, is difficult for individual professionals, healthcare teams and healthcare organisations. Some maternity services are strengthening and embedding improvements and the study will examine whether this can be achieved by other services.


The DISCERN study will examine ‘what works, for whom, in what situations, in what ways and why?’ using in-depth interviews and observation in up to four selected NHS maternity units or networks in England. The DISCERN study is co-led by Dr Mary Adams and Professor Jane Sandall.

Mother and newborn baby

The research team

Our co-investigators or study team include four national charities or associations that represent women and family interests; a senior obstetrician; two midwives and social scientists, and a senior and international specialist in this safety improvement field.  The co-investigator team is supported by a project advisory group that includes seven women who have directly experienced harm in maternity care; senior NHS organisational representatives; clinicians and legal specialists.   A study steering team of senior social science and clinical academics and a parent representative monitors and advises on study progress.

Benefits and impact of the study

From our research findings, we will co-design, with our invited stakeholders including women and family representatives filmed and written guidance for frontline staff and for women and families, as well as briefings for service and organisational leads.

The more immediate benefits of the project are co-produced  guidance for those involved in harm. The longer-term benefits of the study are to re-energise and sustain a conversation in NHS maternity care about the need for consistent structures and processes of support for families, women, patients and healthcare professionals affected by critical health care incidents.

The study is funded by the NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research. It was adopted by ARC South London in November 2019 and will be completed by June 2021.

Meet the team 

Professor Jane Sandall

Jane Sandall is a professor of social science and women’s health at King's College London. Jane has a clinical background in midwifery and an academic background in sociology

Dr Mary Adams

Mary Adams is a senior research fellow at King's College London with an academic background in social and medical anthropology. Mary has a clinical background in high-dependency nursing, nurse education and midwifery,

Professor Rick Iedema

Rick Iedema is professor and director of the Centre for Team-based Practice & Learning in Health Care, King's College London.

Professor Alex Heazell

Alex is professor of obstetrics at the University of Manchester and director of the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre where his research aims to prevent stillbirths and improve care for parents after stillbirth or perinatal death.

Dr Julie Hartley

Julie Hartley is a research associate at King's College London and a social anthropologist by training.

Maureen Treadwell

Maureen Treadwell is co-founder of the Birth Trauma Association which is a campaigning and support service for families affected by traumatic childbirth.

Charlotte Bevan

Charlotte Bevan is senior research and prevention advisor at Sands where she provides parent and patient experience to work programmes designed to drive down the number of babies who die in the UK.

Maria Booker

Maria is programmes director of the charity Birthrights – the UK charity dedicated to improving maternity care through a focus on human rights.