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BACKGROUND: Large-scale improvement programmes are a frequent response to quality and safety problems in health systems globally, but have mixed impact. The extent to which they meet criteria for programme quality, particularly in relation to transparency of reporting and evaluation, is unclear. AIM: To identify large-scale improvement programmes focused on intrapartum care implemented in English National Health Service maternity services in the period 2010-2023, and to conduct a structured quality assessment. METHODS: We drew on the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews guidance to inform the design and reporting of our study. We identified relevant programmes using multiple search strategies of grey literature, research databases and other sources. Programmes that met a prespecified definition of improvement programme, that focused on intrapartum care and that had a retrievable evaluation report were subject to structured assessment using selected features of programme quality. RESULTS: We identified 1434 records via databases and other sources. 14 major initiatives in English maternity services could not be quality assessed due to lack of a retrievable evaluation report. Quality assessment of the 15 improvement programmes meeting our criteria for assessment found highly variable quality and reporting. Programme specification was variable and mostly low quality. Only eight reported the evidence base for their interventions. Description of implementation support was poor and none reported customisation for challenged services. None reported reduction of inequalities as an explicit goal. Only seven made use of explicit patient and public involvement practices, and only six explicitly used published theories/models/frameworks to guide implementation. Programmes varied in their reporting of the planning, scope and design of evaluation, with weak designs evident. CONCLUSIONS: Poor transparency of reporting and weak or absent evaluation undermine large-scale improvement programmes by limiting learning and accountability. This review indicates important targets for improving quality in large-scale programmes.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Qual Saf

Publication Date



health policy, health services research, healthcare quality improvement, obstetrics and gynecology, womens health