"Upset by lack of care in St Thomas' post-natal ward"

About: St Thomas' Hospital / Maternity care

(as the patient),

I underwent an emergency c-section at St Thomas's hospital in London last year. My experience of post natal care was so bad I have had to undergo counselling and I am reluctant to try for another baby. It took me 10 months to bond with my daughter.

In summary:

- I was given a sponge bath at early one morning by two women who did not introduce themselves or explain what they were doing. I was so roughly handled I felt like an animal.

- I had to beg for pain relief - at one stage I went 6 hours before someone brought me some paracetemol (and this was 18 hours after a c-section)

- I couldn't pick up my baby when she was crying and there was no response when I pressed the bell.

- When I asked for help breastfeeding the midwife shrugged and said "try whatever you like" and walked away.

- I couldn't walk but no one brought me any food at mealtimes.

- I had no water within reach (despite asking many times).

- I received no advice on caring for my baby, looking after my c-section scar or general recovery.

I am crying just thinking about how awful I found the midwives who treated me during my stay. It was the worst experience of my life and it devastates me that the rude and uncaring staff I met have left me resentful towards my daughter and reluctant to set foot in an NHS maternity ward ever again.

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Response from St Thomas' Hospital We are preparing to make a change

Your comments are so upsetting to read and it is very disappointing that our unit has let you down so badly on postnatal care. The fact that you are undergoing counselling as a consequence of the care received is deeply concerning.

Your feedback will help us to further raise awareness amongst the staff about how important their individual care and attitude is. Overall there is a theme of a lack of empathy for you as a new mother and this is not an attitude we can tolerate.

Treating women with compassion and respect is fundamental to the provision of good care. However you have shown vividly that we have staff whose attitude and behaviour clearly do not meet the expected standards. Providing a high standard of care on the postnatal ward is a challenge for many maternity units, and is the area which women are most likely to describe in negative terms. Over the past year, as a result of user feedback, we have implemented a series of actions and initiatives into the postnatal ward that are beginning to have a positive impact on the main areas of concern.

- All staff on the postnatal ward are undergoing a customer care and communication skills training day as ongoing work to address issues related to attitude, behaviour and interpersonal skills.

- A zero tolerance for rude, disrespectful or inconsiderate behaviour. Anybody who has been identified as demonstrating such behaviour will meet the Clinical Director to account for their actions. Disciplinary action will follow if no improvement is made

- High sickness levels in this area have been targeted to reduce the dependency on using agency staff

- Improving the ward environment to reduce midwife time spent away from the bedside – e.g., installing individual drug cabinets at each bedside to eliminate the waiting time for pain relief such as you experienced

- Filling the vacancies that also contributed to the need for agency staff.

- Increasing the number of maternity support workers, who are fully trained in breastfeeding and provide additional bedside support for which we have received very favourable feedback

- Breastfeeding is such a crucial priority for postnatal mothers but can result in time management problems for a midwife with six other mothers and babies to care for (the standard ratio for postnatal care is one midwife to seven mothers and babies). We are appointing a dedicated breastfeeding midwife as a further resource to support the midwives in the ward and the mothers.

It is with regret that all of these actions are too late for you and we are so sorry that you have had such a terrible experience.

Your posting will be used to continue the education of staff about the impact their attitude can have on every single woman in their care. It has taken you a long time to share your experience and our regret is that you were not able to do so directly with the unit so we could speak personally.

If you feel it would be helpful to contact us, you can do so directly via the PALS office on 0207 188 8803.

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Response from St Thomas' Hospital

Good progress is being made on all actions described in my response above. For example, sickness levels have been reduced and we have seen a steady reduction in vacancies meaning less reliance on agency staff; the dedicated breastfeeding support midwife has been appointed; the ward has been completely refurbished over the past year, thus improving the physical environment. We will contine to monitor standards and respond to feedback from women using our service, in order to ensure all women receive high quality care.

Lynne Pacanowski, Director of Midwifery and Head of Gynaecology Nursing

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