Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Women shouldn't keep mum over the standard of maternity care

Panorama's discovery that 17 mothers died in London hospitals over 18 months due to 'poor maternal care' has opened the floodgates for nightmarish tales of bullying, neglect and incompetence by midwives across the country.

In radio phone-ins, parenting websites and coffee houses new mums are queuing up to swap their own gruesome labour tales.

Yes, there's a 'badge of honour' element to what's going on. Women who have just gone safely through labour are rather prone to showing off their physical and mental scars with a bravado that would make Andy McNabb blush.

On the other hand, there is far too much evidence, anecdotal and statistical, of bad midwifery for the scare stories to be brushed aside.

It's not just Mumsnet which is clogged up with yarns of women being abandoned in the delivery room for hours on end, being casually told that their excruciating pain is of minor significance, or having their modest requests shelved due to lack of patience or concern.

Most of the mothers I know have come into contact with at least one unprofessional, uncaring or frighteningly intimidating midwife during a pregnancy.

We have all told each other about it - but none of us have ever made an official complaint. And that is unforgiveable.

My own experience - after a rather gruelling 72 hour labour (I didn't say I was entirely impervious to glory-seeking) - was seeing a growling gargoyle of a midwife who made mums who were struggling to breast feed cry, berating them for their lack of perseverance and warning them that their ineptitude was depriving their babies of essential nutrients right now.

She and I almost had a stand-up fight when she insisted I take my baby into bed with me to get her to sleep (her crying was 'upsetting patients') and I refused on account of my being so over-tired I was hallucinating and thus not a good bet to keep a dozing newborn tucked up securely next to me in a single bed with a deadly concrete floor below.

I could see in her eyes the gleam that power-crazed people get when presented with potential victims in a vulnerable state (anyone who has seen Grace Woodward in Britain -amp; Ireland's Next Top Model will know what I mean).

Never mind that these women might be intelligent, sensible, capable people in their daily lives. On her turf she was the vulture and they were her prey.

Other women I know have had far worse experiences, including one who endured a caesarean of searing pain after a patronising, aggressive midwife informed her that her certainty she was still sensitive after her anaesthetic was 'sheer imagination'.

And with staff shortages becoming more widespread - last year UK maternity units had to close their doors to women in labour 1055 times, a 32% increase on 2009 - things aren't likely to improve any time soon.

This week a Commons committee said NHS staff should be warned that failure to report bad conduct by a colleague could lead to them being investigated themselves.

As patients, we are under the same obligations. After my own experience, another, quite brilliant midwife begged me to make a complaint. She wanted nurses like the one of my experience out of the system.

But once safely home, I felt light years away from the whole event, and I never got round to it.

That was a shameful dereliction.

It's time we all made a fuss about rotten maternity care, for the sake of all the women coming along behind us.

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