Checking in for a Caesarean and a glass of champagne
As the UK's most exclusive maternity clinic - and birthplace of choice for the Royals - The Portland has always evoked fascination. As TV cameras are allowed behind the scenes, Susan Griffin takes a sneak peek at what's in store
Patients at The Portland Hospital, the UK's only fully private maternity hospital, come from all over the world. They include royalty, celebrities (Victoria Beckham, Jools Oliver) and "individuals of very high net worth". As CEO Janene Madden puts it: "They're women who are used to getting what they want. If they want to have 10 or 20 additional rooms, we'll provide it. As long as that woman, or her husband, can pay for what they're requesting, we'll do our best to deliver."
Those who opt for the basic £8,000 consultant-led package choose their own doctor, who'll guarantee to be available before, during and after the birth. It includes a night's stay, and from then on, the cheapest room costs £1,200 per night, which can be upgraded to a luxury suite. The average stay is three nights.
The most anyone has reportedly spent is £250,000, and hospital staff admit that high expectations can present a unique set of challenges. Clients have been known to take a whole floor for themselves, and have even refurbished rooms or brought in their own furniture to make it feel like a "home from home". One set of parents even had an entire nursery installed at the hospital before it was "moved to their country residence". Others will bring in their own florists, lady maids and caterers.
Around 1,600 women give birth at the exclusive hospital every year. Meeting their needs is a team of more than 400 employees, which includes nine chefs, 18 catering assistants and 21 full-time cleaners, whose progress is tracked while they clean to make sure they're keeping up to speed.
There are 50 full-time midwives and more than 30 private rooms. Mums-to-be can choose what type of birth they would like "without judgment", says Madden, and around 50% are Caesareans. The notion that tummy tucks can take place at the same time is nonsense, though Madden adds: "We've had patients requesting to deliver at seven minutes past seven on the 7th of July. These things are possible, but they're only possible if you're lining up to deliver at that time anyway."
In the NHS, most mothers leave hospital within a day of giving birth. At The Portland, new mums can enjoy some R&R while babies are looked after in the 24-hour nursery. Madden, who's had two of her three children delivered at the hospital, says: "What I can advocate about here is that it's like having a holiday. You can use the nursery and your baby's only brought back for feeding time, so after two to three nights, you leave here really fit and well and ready to face the challenges of being a new mum. It's how it should be."
In the programme, we're introduced to lead nurse Pat, who's looked after nearly 8,000 babies over the past 20 years. "Some people have said to me, and I'm sure they don't mean it, 'Do you know who I am?' And I've always had to say, 'No', because I don't," admits the softly-spoken Scot, who recalls telling a reluctant prince to change a nappy - and "he loved it". "I don't get starstruck, I'm baby-struck," she adds.
Luxury items, such as foie gras, lobster and oysters, are all available, as well as a choice of champagnes, and great emphasis is placed on food presentation. The busiest time of day is the morning. On the NHS, breakfasts can cost as little as 90p, but at The Portland, a team of 13 prepare any dish desired. Catering manager Sonia, who was head-hunted from London's five-star Dorchester hotel, says she "treats it like a hotel". She also highlights the fact that many new mums are keen to return to their pre-baby weight as soon as possible: "Everything is low-fat, low-calorie."
Midwife Rachel is one of the newest recruits and is still adapting to working in the private sector. "You get used to the hustle and bustle of other hospitals and the constant pressure of emergency situations," she explains. "Really, if everything's straightforward and normal, then you would be delivering the baby yourself, but here at The Portland, the women come for one-to-one consultant care, so to suddenly be faced with helping a lady get dressed or helping her into the shower or brushing her hair... it's a huge shock to the system."
Four times a year, the hospital opens its door to prospective parents, hoping to entice them into buying the ultimate luxurious childbirth experience. Aside from the top medical care, mums-to-be can expect 24-hour fine dining, including the famous afternoon tea, while silver or bronze hand-crafted baby mementos and a personal newborn photographer can be organised too. And, naturally, no Portland mother leaves without a goodie bag.
Five Star Babies: Inside The Portland Hospital is a two-part documentary beginning on BBC Two tomorrow, 9pm