My NHS Experience…(Part 1)
Now I have to start this post praising the NHS staff; they have been on the front line of this pandemic in the UK. I cannot imagine where we would be without their services and dedication to the sick. They have done a phenomenal job and we, the British public should be more appreciative of the NHS, not just now, but ongoing and they deserve a lot more funding than what the Conservatives give, but that’s another story.
Now that being said, I have had a negative experience of the NHS while being pregnant and my complaints started well before the pandemic reached us, so it is important to stress this is my experience of the NHS Trusts in my area and I do understand other people may have had a totally different experience. But as this is my blog, I feel it important to share what we have gone through and how we intend to address the issues.
I have called this post part one as, going against my nature, I have written a letter of complaint to two different NHS Trusts that I believe should have done better by us, and I hope there is a part two post which includes their response and a resolution. We’ll see how that goes.
Setting The Scene
Towards the end of Jan, I went to my GP to tell her that I was pregnant and get the ball rolling on the next steps. I told her that we’d be moving within a couple of weeks and told her our new postcode. She referred me to Queen’s Hospital, their maternity unit was the best in the area according to my GP. I was happy about this, but she did mention that they could reject my referral and if that was the case, I should raise it with my new GP. However, I should receive a letter from the hospital within two weeks, to let me know about my first appointments.
2 weeks later, after we had moved, I received a letter from King George Hospital (from the same NHS Trust as Queen’s, and also a good hospital, so I wasn’t worried). My first appointment was set for the 12th Feb at King George’s for 10am. How exciting!
The Issues We Faced
- Turned Away: We turned up to my first appointment, slightly late, but the receptionist said it was fine. They had my old details on record (surname and address) so, I updated my details with the receptionist. After hearing my new postcode, the receptionist said I lived outside of their Trust’s catchment area and she would need to speak to the Matron to see if they could accommodate me. They could not. I needed to do a self-referral to the Trust that covered my new address…
- Rejected: Later on that day, I had an early pregnancy scan at Queen’s Hospital as I had been quite ill the week before (you can read all about this in one of my earlier posts). The sonographer there was lovely, welcoming and made us feel comfortable; we could take as many pictures as we wanted, she left the scan up while she went to print them, so we could have a moment alone with baby and their picture. When we had mentioned what had happened earlier that day, she suggested we go to their PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) office to see if Queen’s could take me on. Again, they could not. Not only because we lived outside of their catchment area, but because they were full and couldn’t take on any other expectant mums. Explains why I didn’t hear back from them initially I guess…
- Rude Staff: Luckily, we were taken on by Barking Birth Centre that weekend and didn’t have any complaints. The birth centre has a different vibe to a hospital; more chilled and more time to address any questions/concerns we had. But, when it came to me having my second scan in March, the Birthing Centre rang a couple of days before to say they no longer did 8.30am appointments and therefore would need me to come in during the day, around 3pm. Unfortunately, I had a big day of meetings at work and was unable to leave early to make the appointment, so I was booked in at Newham Hospital at 6pm on the same day. We went along and were totally disappointed by the care there. The staff were rude, the sonographer had to be asked the same question three times before she would give us an answer – I asked ‘what is a fibroid?’ after the sonographer said I had three, which worried me – we were not allowed to take any photographs of the scan while it was in progress or afterwards and it took ages for her to find baby in a ‘good position’ (this has never been an issue either before or after this scan). On that day, Hubby and I vowed we would never step foot in Newham Hospital again…
- A Difficult Position: If we decided to give birth at Barking Birth Centre, we would have to hope and pray for no complications, as they don’t have the facilities to deal with these when they arise and would need to transfer me to Newham Hospital. Seeing as the other hospitals we wanted to attend nearby, weren’t able to accommodate us, we would have to trust that everything would be OK at the Birthing Centre. Though any parent knows anything can happen during birth or even later on in pregnancy, so perhaps hope and pray is a bit foolhardy, but positive mental attitude at all times is my motto.
- Subpar Treatment:
- Come the beginning of April, the Birthing Centre also slipped in our estimations. We were meant to meet our midwife for the first time, but because of Covid-19, this would now be a phone appointment, which was fine by us as Hubby could then be a part of the conversation. Rather than getting a call from our midwife, another midwife called us, again that was fine as we know how busy midwives are, especially in this climate. During the call, I was told all my tests came back normal, but a urine sample I had given back at the end of Feb, came back saying I had a UTI and the midwife asked if I had been informed and got my antibiotics. I had not been informed, 2 months later(!), to which the midwife wasn’t sure what to say, as apparently, I should have received a letter and a prescription… Though not necessarily a big deal, this did worry us slightly as it made us question; if there were more serious results, would they get in touch in a timely fashion to confirm next steps?
- The following week we received a letter to say the 2nd Glucose Tolerance appointment I had booked for 5th June would need to be held at a different facility, as the Birth Centre had overbooked. Again, this raised questions for us, namely; if they knew in April they were overbooked for June, what guarantee would we have that when I went into labour, I could be accommodated?
- The feeling of unease was further exacerbated when, later on in April, I had a call from the Birth Centre saying they had overbooked the day of my 20-week scan and that I would need to attend Newham Hospital for it. When I enquired about their next available appointment, I was told they didn’t have an opening for another 3 weeks! At this point I felt very anxious for 2 reasons:
- We were still in the height of Covid-19 and it is thought that pregnant women are at risk (I have read many articles of poor newborns passing away days after being born, due to their mum having contracted Covid-19). I was not prepared to take this risk by going to any hospital.
- Our previous experience at Newham Hospital was such that I didn’t want to attend any of my appointments there if I could avoid it.
Our Immediate Solution
The 20-week scan is an important milestone, especially for a first-time mum; not only is it halfway through the pregnancy, but all being well, it puts parents’ minds at ease for a good pregnancy and you can see, for the first time, a fully developed baby. There was no way I wanted this experience to be tainted by rude staff and an unwelcoming environment.
Hubby and I are very lucky that we can afford to go to a private hospital, and we ended up going private for our scan. Everything is well with baby, we got a million print outs including a couple of 3D ones, and every measurement, scan and movement were explained by a very lovely sonographer. We are now considering going there for our birth, as their services put us at ease, and they let partners in for all appointments, as well as the birth (which understandably, the NHS cannot allow at this time).
However, I can’t help but feel this is unnecessary when we both pay our taxes and there is a free health service that should be able to provide a superior service when needed. From speaking to my cousin (a mother of 3) it appears as a pregnant woman, I should be able to self-refer to any hospital that makes me feel comfortable, no matter how far away from my house. This was seconded by a family friend, who was the Head Matron Of The Labour Ward at The Whittington Hospital, who told me that it is our right to ‘book at any hospital of our choosing’. If this is the case, then we have been greatly mistreated by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University NHS Trust, who turned us away at two different hospitals (King George’s & Queen’s). That, coupled with our treatment by Barts Health Trust (Newham Hospital & Barking Birth Centre), has taken away any confidence we had in the NHS to take care of baby and I, at a time that should be the most relaxed and happy time of our lives.
The Options Available To Us
Having looked at our options within Barts Health Trust, the following are open to us:
- Barking Birth Centre/Newham Hospital – as per the above we do not feel comfortable about attending either of these facilities, due to their lack of care and constant overbooking.
- Barkantine Birth Centre – seems a good option but again would mean if there were any complications I would need to be transferred to the nearest hospital (The Royal London).
- The Royal London Hospital – just by looking on their site, this is a consultant-led care for women who require more personalised care i.e. for those who have had previous difficult deliveries and c-sections, and I do not fall under this category.
- Whipps Cross University Hospital – though the main Woman’s & Neonatal ward are undergoing refurbishment, it seems their inbuilt Lilac Birth Centre has been fully refurbished and is now open. This is a great option as the centre is on the same grounds as a full hospital that can take care of us should any complications arise.
What I Want Out Of Our Complaint
- An apology would go a long way, to acknowledge the fact that our experience should not be the norm and every Trust should be on the same page. Everyone within the UK pays their taxes and therefore the rights of patients should be the same, no matter where you live.
- Admission to Lilac Birth Centre which is within our supposed catchment area and seem to have great reviews. And as per my right as a taxpayer, I should be welcomed by any maternity unit and looked after properly, rather than feeling fobbed off at every turn.
- Not having to go to a private hospital. To be honest, it is nice to know we have this option on the table, however, it’d mean a massive chunk of money (especially if there are complications) that could go towards our baby’s savings pot for school fees/university or even a deposit on a flat. We shouldn’t be made to feel that this is our only option when there is a free health care service.
Why Share My Story?
- To empower others. Through watching loads of YouTube videos and doing a hypnobirthing course (I’ll write about these in a later post for sure) it is clear that any pregnant woman should be made to be feel heard. Up until now, I haven’t felt like I have been treated like I matter, and as a first-time mum, this should not be the case. I, by nature, am not one to complain, but after speaking to other mums and health care professionals, my experience is not right, and the NHS needs to be made aware and held accountable. If you are reading this and have had any complaints, big or small, I hope this inspires you to raise your concerns through the right channels!
- So anyone who has had a similar experience doesn’t feel alone. I do feel this is probably quite an isolated and unfortunate series of events, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else out there who hasn’t been made to feel the same as me. If there is, you are not alone!
- Any experience, good or bad, should not be swept under the rug. I praise those who give me a good service, therefore I should be allowed to make it clear when I feel I have been mistreated in any way.
I know this has been a massively long post and I apologise for taking up so much of your time, but I had a lot to say and get off my chest! I sent my letter of complaint to both NHS Trusts last week, so I’ll let you know when/if I get a response and what the proposed next steps are.
Thanks for listening.