"Concerns after my maternity care experience"

About: Watford General Hospital / Maternity

(as the patient),

I gave birth at Watford General Hospital with my first child in June 2013. I have already made an official complaint last year and received a meaningless apology with no real feedback on any of my suggestions, on how they plan to improve care at this hospital and was basically told they didn't bother finding out the cause of why my baby contracted a neonatal infection, which caused us distress and concern.

So I want to my make experience public, also want to let other mothers know who wish to complain that you need to do this within a year of having your child for them to investigate your complaint and take it seriously. My birth experience at this hospital has left me with some mental scars, and has put me off having a second, if I do I certainly will be moving. While I believe there were many aspects of my care that were of a good standard, I believe I was let down whilst receiving care on the early labour ward and postnatal ward, and whilst waiting to be transferred to a room on the postnatal ward from the delivery suite (must have been over a 10 hour wait).

I went to triage twice, once to be monitored as I had some bleeding that I queried over the phone and was told to come in for monitoring. It was confirmed that I was in early labour on the morning of the Friday, then later that same day when I was at home I rang to get some more advice of when to come back, myself and family tried to follow that advice and were rudely told by a midwife on triage when we arrived 'why have you come back? ', 'don't you remember what you were told? '

To which I replied: I rang and was advised to come in. I was then monitored and examined that evening. They discovered two dips in my baby's heart rate and I believed the midwives were advised by the doctor that I should stay overnight for additional monitoring as a precautionary measure. That night I was given a Pethidine injection in my thigh to help me sleep.

After no more than an hour I woke up in pain that I couldn't cope with, I rang the bell a couple of times to get help and advice of what to do, but felt I was bothering the midwife on duty. She abruptly told me 'you are just 1cm' as in you just need to deal with it, and went away.

A few hours later, probably around 4 am I think with a change of staff on duty, a different midwife came to see me, much nicer, said she would get me gas & air and another one checked my stomach, and examined me. She told me my baby was back to back hence the pain (had no prior knowledge my baby was in this position) and that I was now 3cm dilated. I asked if my family could now come back and she said yes. I was also told I had a full bladder and that was not helping issues, I never got shown or told where these facilities were when I was admitted onto the ward late that Friday night, possibly even the early hours of Saturday morning.

The midwives’ care in the delivery suite was excellent and cannot fault it. I also remember a student midwife who was very supportive and helped me cope. My labour was long, and got stuck at 4cm. My baby was in an awkward position and they did everything they could, and were advised by doctors to help it progress. They also noticed my temperature was high and put me on an antibiotic drip during labour. Eventually I had a normal unassisted vaginal delivery.

However, the care was a let-down afterwards, the midwives changed shift and I am not entirely sure why, but I think there was a handover communication issue. I had a fever, yet the midwife kept telling me my temperature was normal, I am a trained first aider and know my temperature was not being taken properly and digital thermometer was not being inserted into my ear correctly.

The midwife was trying to keep me warm rather than cool me down, I was so hot I went delirious and could not communicate properly. Eventually this midwife disappeared and none of us knew what was going on. I admit the only word I could get out was an expletive not aimed at anyone as no staff were in the room, but was in pain and incredibly hot, then staff rushed in and then and only then started monitoring my baby. It was then discovered my baby was the opposite to me and had a low body temperature, and had an infection.

He was put on IV antibiotics, and also so was I, but was never really told the full details of what this infection was. I remember the doctors mentioning Strep B in the delivery suite at the time I was in labour with a high temperature, although I have since been told it wasn't that and they have no clue what it was, didn't bother to send bloods to the lab in the end as my son made a recovery after 5 days of IV antibiotics, which yes I am grateful for, just not grateful for the initial experience and that the infection wasn't spotted earlier.

I felt disorientated by the care in the postnatal ward, it is a chaotic place where I got no rest to recover from a long labour. The information passed on from midwife to midwife to us was confusing and contradictory. I feel staff are overworked and there is an obvious resource issue, and some staff have become jaded and forgotten what it is like to be a new mum, they lack empathy and don't need to treat new parents in a patronising manner.

There is a serious lack of lactation consultants, I wasn't seen by one until day 4 of my 5 day hospital stay. This seems to contradict the health service's overwhelming message that 'breast is best'. I was disappointed in the help I received as I discussed my concerns over my ability to be able to breast feed due to congenital condition of inverted nipples and was promised I would get expert advice & support in hospital at my antenatal appointments. I failed at breast feeding and could not go to any local support groups as I don't drive and injured my hip shortly after being discharged from hospital, and was in severe pain for months. If I had a shorter stay at hospital I wouldn't have been seen by a consultant at all.

I do note staff work hard and are busy, and deal with bigger emergencies than we personally experienced. However, I think a change in rules could help as in allowing close family members (e. g. partners or those without partners/spouses, their selected birthing partner) to play a bigger role in supporting women that have given birth (particularly at night). I noticed during my stay that the hospital had been granted funds to refurbish the postnatal wards, whether that is still the case I do not know. However, I seriously would suggest investing in pull out beds particularly for the side rooms on the postnatal ward where either women or their babies have not had the most straightforward births and are need of additional support. I have spoken to other women where hospitals in other areas have this facility and this has drastically made a positive impact on their overall experience.

I believe all women deserve a better birth experience and not just those who can either afford to use the Knutsford suite (which I note is now shutdown until further notice) or are low risk enough to use the recently refurbished ABC. Obviously nicer facilities will make a huge change as it is apparent the ward has seen better days, but staff attitudes need to be consistent and show more emotional support and empathy towards women during this although often seen as 'special', but vulnerable time as well.

I seriously hope that this hospital has raised its standards of care for women in Watford & the surrounding areas since I gave birth there and made my complaint last year.

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