About three months after I handed in my complaint, I received a letter from the UCLH Trust Headquarters, telling me that they had completed the investigation and informing me about their findings. Without further ado, here is what they said:
[…] I am saddened to hear of your experience in this context. […] I have reviewed each point of concern you raised in your description of birth experience. Please accept my apologies. The incidents you have described throughout your care are not acceptable and fall below the standard of care I would expect from a member of my team. I have officially referred your case to X’s supervisor of midwives who will review your care, the concerns raised and make recommendations for future practice both for the individual midwife involved and the greater midwifery team.
[…] In addition, X will have a personal development plan with measurable goals and objectives to achieve over a short period of time. In the event of further complaints or failure to achieve these goals, she will be subject to the Trust disciplinary policy. The Head of Midwifery on my team is personally involved to ensure this matter is monitored and appropriate actions taken. […]
Do I feel better now? You bet! This is the kind of closure I needed to make peace with an event that marked the beginning of something beautiful but just happened to start out rather awful.
Complaining against someone within the NHS seemed daunting to me at first. There are complaint procedures, certain rules and timings you have to be aware of. Plus, you need to write the events down, i.e. you have to emotionally go through it all over again.
Unfortunately, I am not alone with my experience, but very few women actually do complain. I can completely understand that this is a highly emotional topic that one might just not want to dig up again and again, but if you are thinking of complaining, here are a few tips:
- Pour yourself a large glass or red and write everything down as soon as possible, as detailed as possible. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or even the odd curse thrown in, you can edit it later.
- Ask for a copy of your maternity notes as soon as possible. It took me about two weeks to find the right person to ask for them. And it took about three months to actually get hold of them.
- The NHS complaint procedure suggests handing in complaints as soon as possible, but a year after the event at the latest. Given the time it takes to receive notes etc., my advice would be not to leave it too long.
- Whoever has been with you, let them read the notes and compare it with your written report. You want to have as little discrepancy as possible regarding the course of the events – it would only distract the reader from your point. Also, I couldn’t bear looking at the notes myself and instead poured myself another glass of that red.
- The NHS constitution states an array of rights on which you can base your complaint. This isn’t mandatory, but it helped me to justify what I was doing, whenever I felt like my case wasn’t extreme enough.
- Think about what you want to achieve with your complaint. Do you want actions to be taken against the person involved? Do you want an apology? Should that be in a letter? A phone call? Do you want to meet someone from the midwifery team?
- Send a copy of your complaint to your local MP. In my case, Emily Thornberry was very quick to reply and chased the Trust on my behalf. And when I met her on the street the other day and stopped to thank her for her help, she even recalled my case. Who would have thought that she’s actually reading her mail herself?
- Hug your partner, kiss your baby and punch a pillow, if it all gets a bit too much.