Routine vaginal examinations for assessing progress of labour

Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health, 

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences,
Oxford Brookes University


Dr Lesley Smith –Oxford Brookes University

Dr Ethel Burns - Oxford Brookes University

Clinical Collaborator

To be confirmed


Vaginal examinations to assess labour progress are a routine intrapartum care intervention. Slow progress in labour can be a sign of dystocia, which is associated with maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality, particularly in low-income countries where appropriate interventions cannot easily be accessed. However, over-diagnosis of dystocia can lead to maternal or neonatal morbidity from interventions such as operative vaginal birth or Caesarean section. The use and timing of routine vaginal examinations and other ways of assessing progress in labour, including maternal behaviour and women's views of ways of assessing labour progress, have been identified as high priority topics for the focus of new research (Downe et al 2013). Using a mixed methods approach, this project will establish the most effective approaches for measuring physiological labour progress and for determining true labour dystocia. The project will include determining the most effective timing of, and women’s experiences of, vaginal examinations.


Downe S, Gyte GM, Dahlen HG and Singata M (2013) Routine vaginal examinations for assessing progress of labour to improve outcomes for women and babies at term. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Available at (accessed 20 June 2016).

Dr Lesley Smith is Reader in Maternal and Women’s Public Health at Oxford Brookes. She leads OxBUMP ( a group of researchers, lecturers and post-graduate students conducting research involving maternal health, has extensive experience as an applied health researcher and is an experienced supervisor of doctoral students.

Dr Ethel Burns is a Senior Lecturer for Midwifery and has extensive experience as a practicing midwife. She has led research projects involving intrapartum care.  She is an experienced research supervisor.

For further information about the research project please contact Ethel Burns on

Applicants should be of the highest quality and capable of submitting a PhD thesis within 4 years alongside undertaking clinical duties within the trust. The successful applicant’s should have a first class or upper second class (minimum 2.1) honours degree from a Higher Education Institution in the UK or an acceptable equivalent qualification from a recognised Higher Education Institution. A Master’s degree with research methods training and/or evidence of the skills required for higher research study would be desirable. 

Please see the main OUH Studentships page for the full requirements and application process.