Mummy stuff, Pregnancy

Complaining against an NHS midwife… result!

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.

33 Comments

  1. congratulations, good for you and you are lucky to have a good MP as well.

  2. Congratulations, so pleased the NHS have taken action (which sounds like good sensible action) and that more importantly you took action in the first place. And your MP too, wowsers! Overall very impressed. Phew and hurrah!

  3. I’m pleased that you have got somewhere and it certainly sounds like they are taking it seriously and tackling it x

  4. Fantastic! I’m so pleased they’re taking it seriously. I’ve been dealing with UCH over the last couple of weeks and they’ve been amazing – luck of the draw though I suppose, and antenatal care is of course a rather different kettle of fish from labour care! Well done for having the guts to complain and take action xxx

  5. That does sound like an excellent outcome. You are right – I do think women need to complain if they don’t get the care they deserve. I guess it can be hard to do if you are going through the shock of having given birth.

    Excellent advice.

  6. Way to go MM! Hopefully your actions will help improve the stituation.

  7. Hi mm, that’s fantastic!! i know only too well how important it is to get closure after an awful birth experience with a an awful midwife to blame. i too officially complained and felt better after I had. writing out the points if a great thing to do too.
    well done! xx

  8. Excellent news! Having a child is daunting enough and it is expected to have the correct care in place when our miracles are born. Well done for for carrying out your complaint so the next mom to be will not have to experience the same!

    Happy that you have closure, too. I am sure that does a world of good.

  9. Good for you for standing up for yourself and holding them responsible. Too few people follow through on something like this and then more women are exposed to a bad experience. (Love how you recommend starting out with a glass of wine – cheers!)

  10. hi

    well done. I would add one piece of advice to your list. My friend used to be customer services manager for the local hospital NHS trust and she suggested numbering your points when you make your complaint so that is clear that you want them addressed and responded to.

    I had to submit a complaint about my antenatal care, albeit far more minor than yours and I was glad I had her to advise me how to make a complaint but not everyone has that available to them.

  11. That is such great news and a very god result I think! Well done for pursuing it – I know it must have been really hard to relive it all. xxx

  12. Well done for pursuing your case and getting the outcome you deserve, you’re right – so many people don’t complain even when they have a good case. Luckily both my birth experiences were handled well (despite having difficulties with my second) but I’ve had friends who haven’t been so lucky – such a shame as it can really affect those precious few days with a new baby. So pleased for you. Helen

  13. Well done for perservering with it. I know it’s hard. I could have (and should have) complained after Littleboy1’s birth, but didn’t.

  14. Not enough people complain in an effective way, (ie.moaning to anyone who’ll listen and not finding the right person). Well done. Hopefully the bitch in question will realise that she does have to answer to others and she can’t treat people the way she does.

  15. That’s really great, I particular think the response shows that something is really done about it, not just an apology, but ensuring that this won’t happen again. Birthing mums will reap the benefits from it!

  16. Well done for perservering, it’s brave and determined of you. And what a great result!

  17. YES! I’m so pleased for you. Makes me wish I’d complained about my treatment when I had P. x

  18. I’m so glad that you got a response and that your complaint was taking seriously!! It also rocks having a half decent MP! Hope that you have a great weekend x

  19. What an uplifting thing to read! I like it when things like that go the way they are meant to. And I thought your guide was very clear and sensible.

  20. Job well done. It is always satisfying to get your point across and a situation resolved. It’s good that you can now move on.

  21. Helen says

    Well done. I work for the NHS and know that change does happen through complaints being made. We had issues with our Stroke Unit and massive changes were made following a number of complaints. I have encouraged a couple of friends to complain about issues they have had but who unfortunately are worried about the level of care their relatives would receive following the complaint, had they made it so unfortunately have done nothing – one of these being a cancer ward…Good for you

  22. Well done you. So many women are too scared to speak out about the poor level of care they recieve from NHS midwives. Yes, there are some fantastic midwives out there and we are generally very lucky in the UK to have well trained and regulated midwifery care, but there are some who let the profession down. Hopefully someone will see the good result you have had and take their own complaint forward

  23. What a wonderful response to your concerns. I hope the letter will result in better care for future patients. Sorry you had to have a bad experience though.

  24. Way to do what you really felt you needed to do! Did you write about what happened before and I totally missed it?? If not, that’s fine – just wanted to make sure I’m not going crazy.
    And P.S. sleeping in a tent is also NOT my idea of a fun get away, trust me. I had to indulge the husband a little since I “dragged” him to music fest 🙂 Not romantic at all in Lugano in the summer. Holy hotness.

  25. Well done for persevering with it and getting them to respond and actually take some action. Your list is very helpful for people who are ever in the same position.

  26. Dear Deborah,

    I was just reading about your complaint about the UCLH. I gave birth on the 6th to a lovely baby daughter and was also really badly treated in the Fetal Assement Unit as when I was 41 weeks +. I have started the complaint procedure and a midwife called to say someone will visit me at home to discuss my case. I have already asked for a copy of my file and wondered whether you were happy with what you acchieved with your complaint or if you have any further advice for me?
    Many thanks Anke

  27. Pingback: Too posh to push? | Metropolitan Mum

  28. Rebecca says

    Well done! I have just started the process of upgrading my internal complaint to a formal one against a terrible UCLH midwife.
    For those of you feeling like you would like to have complained – you have 5 years to do so.
    Healing vibes to those of you who – like me – may need it.

  29. L. Elmsworth says

    I’m afraid the same thing happened to me at UCLH in 2012. I am still too distressed by the pain and horror – basically I explained to the midwife (and wrote on my birth plan) that I have a phobia of things being stuck up inside me, and asked to be able to do hypnobirthing breathing exercises before she did the “sweep” or whatever it was so as to be calm enough. She just grabbed me and shoved her fist right up inside me, so I screamed in agony and she just pushed hr fist further inside me.

    Afterwards I was utterly shaken and terrified. I did not sleep all night because they said they were going to do it again in the morning. At 5 a.m. I asked the other midwives on duty if I could not have it done, but they ignored me. The same midwife came back and insisted she was going to do it again, and would not let me wake my husband up first. I was absolutely terrified and refused.

    In the end my doula turned up early (I texted her begging her to come even though i was not yet in labour) and she insisted they get the doctor instead and let me use gas and air.

    It was a terrible experience and I am still too traumatised to think about it – this is the first time I have been able to describe it at all, 20 months later.

    I was not able to make a complaint because I had already made a PALS complaint (supposedly a friendly liaison one!) about one of the hospital staff, and she told the midwife team I had complained nastily about THEM and they reported me to social services for “anxiety.” So I ended up being observed by social services while in hospital, not allowed to leave without permission…luckily the social worker said herself there should never have been a report to her and it was clearly a “misunderstanding” so there was never a case opened, but the experience was absolutely terrifying and destroyed our first months with our baby.

    UCLH is a terrible place. I wish your complaint HAD saved others from having the same experience. Thank you for being brave enough anyway!

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