Monday 15 October 2012

Pathetic postnatal care

It's not often in life I find myself so incensed or upset about something that I follow through with making a complaint. I might grizzle and moan to friends about less than satisfactory customer service, or let my the Boy know when I'm disappointed with the way something has turned out, but that is usually where I draw the line and let go of an issue and move on. I don't like to hold on to negative experiences - I used to do a lot of that in the past and it didn't agree with me. Now I find it better to spend some time processing why something has upset me and then think about how I can learn from that or do things differently, let go, and move on to the next thing life has to offer.

However, the experience I endured in the postnatal ward at St Thomas's Hospital was so bad, that for the first time in a number of years I was riled enough to formally complain. The letter below went to the hospital last week and outlines my concerns - I won't repeat them now as the letter sets it all out clearly enough, but suffice to say the experience was pretty horrific and really set me back in my first few days of looking after Lucy. But I was lucky enough to come home to a wonderful husband, a loving family (which included a midwife) and a great circle of friends, and now it all feels like quite a distant memory. However, I'm aware not every woman is lucky enough to have such a great bunch of people and so much love behind her, so I felt I owed it to people less fortunate than me to raise the points I have done formally. I've heard from the hospital that an investigation is being conducted... I will let you know of any outcomes.

Patient information team

St Thomas' Hospital
Knowledge and information centre (KIC)
ground floor, North Wing
Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7EH

To whom it may concern

It is with regret that I am writing to complain about the treatment I received during my recent stay in the postnatal ward at St Thomas’s Hospital from 20-22 September 2012.

I had my first baby, a daughter Lucy, by planned c-section on 20 September 2012 as she was transverse with the cord presenting. Prior to the operation I was in the antenatal ward for a fortnight, and the level of care I received there and during the operation was of a very high standard. I felt safe and respected even when it was evident the staff were incredibly busy, and I was optimistic this would continue when I moved to the postnatal ward.

However, my experience rapidly deteriorated once there and I was appalled by the level of care I received on the postnatal ward. My main concerns were:
·      -   Not being given a clean hospital gown to wear until two days after my operation, despite asking, so I was lying in a blood-soaked gown for 36 hours.
·     -    Midwives being too busy to change my blood-soaked pads on the bed, so having to lie in them for much longer than was dignified. When asking a midwife for help, I was told to do it myself, but I couldn’t see the area and it was too early for me to move about as I had only just had the operation.
·     -    A doctor saying how important it was that my catheter was removed the day after surgery so I could get up and be mobile – but I spent hours asking midwives to remove it and they didn’t until 36 hours after surgery when I was literally sobbing for it to be taken out. They were also too busy to empty it, so it was full to bursting at the side of my bed which left me feeling very unrespected.
·      -   Buzzing for assistance in lifting my daughter from her cot to me so I could nurse her and offer skin-to-skin contact, but having to wait for a long time for someone to assist me – I eventually gave up and did it myself even though it put undue strain on my caesarean wound and was painful to do so.
·      -   Conflicting advice from midwives about how to nurse my newborn – one insisted I continually nurse her for four hours straight, while another said I should only be doing half an hour at a time. No one told me the same thing.
·       -  Midwives not introducing themselves at the beginning of shifts so I had no idea who was supposed to be supporting me, and no one coming onto the ward for hours at a time to check patients were ok.
·       -  Having to buzz midwives to insist on them giving me my blood-thinning injections and pain relief – this was never offered to me proactively, I always had to remind them when I needed the medication which is a lot of responsibility for someone recovering from major abdominal surgery.
·       - Only seeing a doctor once after my caesearean – a midwife looked at my scar quickly before I was discharged but that was the only aftercare I received.
·       -  Being made to feel like an inconvenience – whenever I asked for help I was told midwives were too busy. -I asked if the breastfeeding counsellor could come to see me I was told “do you really want to make her walk in here and see you when she’s so busy”, and when I asked for advice when my baby was distressed the midwife glaring at me and saying “babies cry, deal with it”.
·       -  Hearing other women on the postnatal ward crying about the similar neglect they were receiving.
·      -   Midwives not assisting me with my wound hygiene when I got out of bed. My husband had to remove the dressing with me instead, which I do not find a satisfactory level of care.
·       -  Having to wait until day 4 before receiving a visit from a community midwife in my home.

The 48 hours I was on the postnatal ward were intolerable and spoiled my first few days with my beautiful daughter. Thankfully I have returned to a loving family home with a supportive and nurturing husband, family and friends, and community midwives have since been excellent, so I am bonding well with my daughter and enjoying every moment with her.

However, when I think back to my time in St Thomas’s after the birth it had a massive psychological effect on me and it still reduces me to tears. I don’t think I would be doing so well if I didn’t have such a strong support network so I feel I must complain in case other women have such a negative experience but are not as fortunate as me in their support network. I totally lost my confidence on the postnatal ward, and felt undervalued and like an inconvenience at all times. The only midwife who treated me like a human being was an agency midwife called Christiana. I am grateful to her.

I would like to know by return what steps you are going to put in place to ensure women receive far better treatment on the postnatal ward and make sure this level of neglect does not happen again. I am aware my negative experience was not unique just from talking to other women on my ward.

Please advise what steps you will take to ensure all new mums receive a basic level of care and have their dignity protected in response to each of the points I raise above.

After having a baby a woman can be very vulnerable and I believe the current standard of service offered by St Thomas’s postnatally is well below acceptable and I am prepared to talk to the media about the hugely disappointing level of care I received.

I look forward to your swift response.



  1. Oh my goodness that sounds horrendous. I am so glad you are safe and well now and very glad you complained. I hope it leads to some major changes, though it is so very upsetting that you had to go through this.

  2. Thanks Siobhan it was a bit of a nightmare - I am happy and well now but I know a lot of that is down to how many wonderful people I have fighting my corner, and I know not everyone is so fortunate so I had to do something. The hospital has acknowledged receipt of my complaint so let's hope it means no one else has to go through what I did xx

  3. Did you get any response? My sis in on the postnatal section now and is having an appalling time with several of the issues u have stated above.