Most private health insurance doesn’t directly cover ‘women’s issues’ – so it won’t pay for your IVF or a private midwife. But with Health at Hand there is back-up there if you need it – especially if you feel you’re not being listened to elsewhere.
We spoke to Midwife Emma Cronin, who has spent more than 30 years working in women’s health, and the last six years answering calls and emails at Health at Hand.
Hi Emma! What kind of support can the Health at Hand helpline offer women?
A lot! The core helpline is open 24/7, and there’s a team of nurses, pharmacists, and counsellors on hand. There’s also a midwife there 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm on Saturday, and 8am to 12pm on Sunday.
We’re here to be a listening ear and provide unbiased support and guidance – offering information and signposting to further support when and where it’s needed.
Our time is not limited to a 10–15-minute consultation, and that means we can explore issues, look at options, answer questions - and just LISTEN.
I’d say the majority of the calls we take from women are women who feel that they’re not getting the service or support they need from their primary care provider. They’re often unsure how or where to seek help, are getting conflicting advice, feeling dismissed, or just looking for an independent perspective.
What kind of health issues are women talking about?
Anything and everything! The team can also talk to women about menopause queries, and while awareness is improving it’s still something women can struggle to get their GP to take seriously – and it can have a serious impact on women’s personal and professional lives. We’re here to talk through symptoms and how to manage them, and what the treatment options and side effects might look like.
The team can also offer things like cancer nurse support for female cancers, which can be difficult to spot. We can discuss symptoms and help people further down the line process information they’ve had from their consultant – answering all those questions that only occur to you once you’ve left the hospital.
Since Covid, we’ve been getting more calls about miscarriages and termination of pregnancy. With less face-to-face support available in the community, women have been confused about where to go and what to do - and desperately need to know what’s happening to them, and what their options are.
We’ve also started talking to more women about fertility issues – lifestyle changes they can make to improve the chances of conception, signs of ovulation, routes for treatment - and emotional support.
Mental health support is a huge part of what we do, and signposting to specialist agencies, charities, and support organisations.
As one of the midwives I can be talking to women in early pregnancy about their symptoms - how to deal with morning sickness, what it means if they start bleeding, and what they can expect in childbirth. Later on in their pregnancies, I can be talking through diagnoses like pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes, or discussing birth plans, concerns and pain relief. I have been there to talk couples through foetal abnormalities and help them understand what’s being said. Women will talk to me about things like reduced foetal movements, signs of labour and when they should go into hospital - and I’ll take calls with new mothers about things like breastfeeding, infant constipation, and reflux.
It’s a lot about reassurance, a lot about affirmation, and a lot about empowering women with the information and confidence they need to go back to their own midwives, health visitors, and GPs.
Being pregnant or being ill can be a very vulnerable time - and a very scary time. It’s our job to help women understand what’s happening to them, find their voice, and use it to advocate for themselves.
How many calls/emails do you take?
We get about 100 calls a day, and 30 or 40 ‘ask the expert’ emails. In the last year, we’ve taken around 650 Midwifery calls, as well as approximately 100 newborn baby enquiries. Miscarriage, termination of pregnancy and fertility calls accounted for around 250 calls.
Phone calls can range in length from 5 to 45 minutes, and we’ll often arrange call backs which can last up to an hour.
What sort of feedback do you get?
We don’t always see what happens after people get the in-the-moment information and support they need from us, but it’s wonderful when we do!
One woman I talked to had a particularly difficult pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia and raised blood pressure. I'd talked to her and her husband several times over the later months of what was a very anxious pregnancy. When her health deteriorated after the birth, I sent them back to hospital, and it was a good job I did. They wrote afterwards to say her life had been in danger - and how grateful they were to have had my support.
Another woman had complications after a traumatic miscarriage and I recognised she needed to go back for further treatment. In the end she had to have surgery. She wrote the loveliest note to say thank you for giving her the confidence she needed to push back, and for treating her like a person and not just a patient,
Those are the moments that really make my job special.
Why did you become a midwife?
I’ve always loved midwifery. Having a baby can be a time of change and uncertainty, fear and excitement, and I enjoy making that transitioning journey easier to take on, equipping people with knowledge and support to help them on their journey.
Watching families being made is amazing - and seeing a newborn baby will never stop being magical. But it’s also a privilege to be there for people when things are fraught - and when they are painful. You really can make a difference to people when they need it the most.
What I like about moving from the labour ward in the NHS to the phones for AXA Health is that I get to spend more time in that supportive role. I’m giving up-to-date, quality, research-based information, and gentle, side-by-side care without any time constraints. The work is incredibly varied, incredibly rewarding - and it certainly keeps me on my toes!
What would you say to people wondering whether to give you a call?
Health at Hand is part of your plan, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re a lovely bunch, and we really are here to help.