Friday, 18 June 2010

Royal Free Maternity Services - still big problems


This week I attended the monthly Maternity Services Committee at the Royal Free Hospital, where I have been on the committee since giving birth there in January 2007 (the above picture shows me and my daughter sleeping in a hospital bed).

Improving maternity services is something I care passionately about, and being on this committee is I suppose an attempt to help improve things on a local level.

The committee comprises of maternity staff, NCT representatives and users. Well, when I say 'users' I actually mean 'me'. Unfortunately, I am the only woman present at these meetings that has actually given birth at the hospital – something I have been challenging for as long as I’ve been attending the meetings!

I pointed out that the meetings might be better attended if they didn’t now hold them in a room on the labour ward. Any woman who had had a traumatic experience (and there are 10 million women in the UK who suffer from post-birth trauma) would not want to come back to the labour ward, the scene of the trauma.

I admitted that I was none too keen on coming back onto the ward for the sake of the meeting. At this point, one of the NCT reps also said that, although it was 17 years since she’d given birth, she was still ‘half listening out for the screams.’ I was doing the same.

The Royal Free has had a bad reputation in the past when it comes to maternity services. I was appalled by the details of the latest complaints, which show that in many ways the situation hasn’t changed since I was there in 2007. So many of the complainants raise the issue of the attitude of midwives; the words ‘rushed’, ‘uncaring’, ‘unsympathetic’, ‘no respect’, ‘incompetent’, ‘abrupt’, ‘rude’ and ‘aggressive’ are all used to describe the midwives in the complaints received April 2009-March 2010.

I asked the committee why this problem continues when we were told that it was being dealt with back in 2007? Was it shortage of staff, job dissatisfaction, paper work overload? I was told that the problem of midwife attitude is “a problem across London, not just here” and that staffing levels were now at one midwife to every 32 births – the aim is one for every 28 births. Hmm…what ever happened to ‘one mother, one midwife’, I longed to ask?!

The issue of support for breastfeeding was raised. My own experience was that the midwives actively discouraged breastfeeding, telling me that I “don’t have a clue” and that my baby was “suffering”. I was also told that colostrum (the first milk breastfeeding women produce) is not enough for babies, and that you needed to supplement with formula – completely untrue! I remember that I was the only woman in the bay where my bed was that was actually trying to breastfeed – bottles of formula abounded – provided by the hospital.

One member of staff commented this week “Some units [in other hospitals] don’t have bottles and formula. But that would be a radical step.”

Not surprisingly, feeding problems are one of the main reasons why babies are readmitted to hospital.

Home birth was also discussed. The Royal Free has a 1% home birth level. As it says on the maternity pages of the hospital’s website ‘We provide midwifery support for home births only within a limted [sic] area in order to ensure safe staffing levels.’ This despite the fact that home birth often results in the most natural and least traumatic births possible.

It depresses me that after three years, we’re still talking about the same issues, and the same problems are still very much in evidence. As one woman wrote in her complaint about the care (or lack of) that she had received, she ‘would like to log this complaint so that other mothers do not got through what [I] went through.’

My thoughts exactly.

I really would urge mothers who have given birth in the last few years at the Royal Free to come along to the committee meetings – we need more mothers standing up and saying this cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

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