Yesterday in the House of Commons I called for an independent inquiry into failing maternity services at Queen’s Hospital.
Many constituents have contacted me about the poor maternity care they’ve received at Queen’s and that’s why I fought to secure an Adjournment Debate in Parliament.
Here is the speech I made yesterday. You can also watch the debate by clicking here.
“I am most grateful to you Mr Speaker for enabling us to debate tonight the maternity services on which people in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies depend.
On behalf of those people, I hope that the Minister will feel able to respond positively to the proposals I wish to make, which I know are supported by neighbouring MPs.
And let me preface my remarks my saying that I know there are many dedicated and committed individuals working in the NHS in Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge who give of their all to the maternity services in the Borough. I fully acknowledge and warmly thank them for what they do.
But my overriding responsibility and duty is to all the women in the area who want to be certain that when they have their babies, there will be a bed for them, there will be enough experienced and appropriately qualified midwives looking after them, and that the care they get during their pregnancy and birth is of a consistent high quality, giving the mothers the support they need and ensuring we can all be confident that the pregnancy and birth will be safe for both mother and baby.
That is not a lot to ask and expect, but shockingly, at present that is not delivered and guaranteed to all mothers dependent on our hospital trust.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust has one of the highest birth rates in the country with just under 10,000 babies born in trust facilities last year. In my constituency, the birth rate has gone up by more than a third (34%) between 2002 and 2010 (from 2416 to 3682).
Across all the communities served by this trust, the number of births has been growing year on year by 500 additional births each year and everybody believes that trend will persist for the foreseeable future.
Yet a report from the Care Quality Commission this March expressed major concerns about the quality of care at one of the Trust hospitals, Queens in Romford – a huge indictment of the service and a dreadful worry for families who are having babies.
The CQC found that maternity services at Queens are failing to meet essential standards of care and that the Trust is not taking all proper steps to ensure the safety of women in the maternity unit.
Inspectors stated that services are so under-staffed that mothers and babies are at risk. They found that too many of the staff do not have the right skills and that the appropriate equipment is sometimes missing.
Inspectors reported mothers in labour being left alone for long periods of time without the pain relief they needed. They found significant delays in patients going to theatre and they said that babies are being born in what they term ‘inappropriate locations.’
They expressed concerns about respecting and involving mothers in their own care and they found that the Trust did not give bereaved mothers proper facilities in a separate room, away from new mothers and their babies when their babies died in childbirth.
Sadly, the CQC confirmed what we already knew. We knew it from the fact that more women actually die whilst under the care of the Trust than elsewhere.
4 women have died in BHRT maternity units in the last 12 months, 5 in the last 18 months. Maternal deaths are 5 times greater than the national average.
And the Trust has paid out £15million in compensation in the last five years on claims against the obstetric services – that is one of the biggest compensation bills across the whole of the NHS.
Mr Speaker, those statistics are heartrending. What should be moments of joy for mothers and their families become experiences filled with fear and pain – and at their worst, loss and grief.
And we as local MPs are told of far too many cases where people have to put up with terrible care, particularly at Queens Hospital.
One of my constituents gave birth at Queens in July last year. She was kept waiting for hours in reception when she was already in labour, with other waiting patients in the same area. She was told that staff were too busy to give her an epidural. The same staff then failed to give her an episiotomy and she suffered second degree tears and had to have 20 stitches in her vagina. Yet she had to wait for 3 hours to be sutured because (the Hospital told us) ‘not all midwives have had the required training to perform this procedure.’
Another constituent went to Queens when she was two weeks’ overdue. She had been having contractions for over a week and was losing weight. But instead of inducing her there and then, the hospital sent her away. Shortly afterwards she gave birth to a stillborn baby.
A third constituent was supposed to have a home birth. The midwives arrived late without enough pain relief and oxygen. After an hour she was in such agony she had to go to Queens where she had to have an emergency caesarean. The Trust later accepted that she hadn’t been properly examined whilst she was in labour at home.
And there have also been some very high profile cases recently of women who have tragically lost their lives at Queens, because the care they received was so lacking.
Sareena Ali and her unborn baby died after staff failed to identify that she had a ruptured womb which triggered a heart attack and a major organ failure. She had not been checked for 2 hours, despite her husband begging staff to check if anything was wrong because she was in consistent agony. She had an emergency caesarean – on the ante-natal ward in front of other women in labour – but the baby was stillborn. Staff tried to resuscitate Sareena with a disconnected mask – and it was her sister-in law who spotted this, but Sareena died 5 days later, a death that could have been avoided.
Earlier this month, Violet Stephens went to Queens at 31 weeks’ pregnant with dreadful gastric pain and high blood pressure. After four days in hospital she was eventually diagnosed with a life-threatening complication called HELLP syndrome, which is a variant of pre-eclamsia. She had an emergency caesarean and whilst the baby was delivered healthily, she died. Violet had similar symptoms during her previous pregnancies, but the system failed her and her case is currently under investigation.
And in August last year Saira Choudri was sent home from Queens even though she was having contractions every two minutes. She was found blood-soaked and in agony by two nurses in the car park. Thankfully, her baby survived.
This litany of tragic instances of unacceptably poor care has to stop and the Minister and her Secretary of State must take responsibility for improving our maternity services.
In part the problem lies with shortages of staff and shortages of properly qualified and experienced staff. The new Chief Executive is recruiting midwives from abroad and I welcome that, but we have been here before and the Trust has to find ways of retaining as well as recruiting good midwives over the longer term.
Mothers talk about the lack of respect for them as patients and the failure to involve them in decisions about their care. Most women see a different community midwife at every appointment.
All of that suggests a deeply worrying cultural problem among the midwifery staff who work for the trust. When Sareena Ali died there was a full complement of staff on duty and there was no unexpected pressure on them. They blatantly failed to do their job and take proper care of her.
There appears to be a poor working culture with midwives not co-operating effectively together as a team and with individuals not accepting proper responsibility. All too often they literally don’t seem to care.
And furthermore, the Trust’s complaints’ procedure is not working. Individuals complain; the Trust’s response is all too often incomprehensible and the Trust seems never to learn the lessons from past mistakes.
Saira Choudhri, the woman who was almost forced to give birth in a car park, complained to the trust about the attitude of staff and the care she received. Her complaint was brushed off with a technical response that completed failed to address the real issue – and nothing seems to have changed.
If the Trust had an open, rigorous and patient focused complaints protocol and acted on these complaints to improve their care, some of these tragedies might have been avoided.
If they had listened and learnt from what patients were telling them, other women might not have had to go through similar ordeals – and Sareena Ali might now be at home with her husband and baby. There is going to be a full inquest into the death of Sareena Ali and I trust this will help to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
Mister Speaker. All the local MPs believe that the health authority’s determination to close the maternity service at King George hospital is complete madness. Birth rates in the area are rising and quality of care at Queens is simply unacceptable.
What on earth do the bureaucrats think they are doing? The Government’s health reforms are supposed to put the patients’ interest at the heart of what is done.
That’s not the case in Barking and Dagenham.
Decisions are being driven by money not patients, consultants’ convenience not women’s interests.
Queen’s hospital simply can’t cope and things will only get worse if King George goes.
Local GPs in my area are strongly opposed to the proposals, and across North East London, tens of thousands of my and my colleagues’ constituents have signed a petition against it.
This isn’t a bit of MP nimbyism. It’s a commonsense conclusion, with the support of a cross-party group of MPs, based on a proper understanding of what local people should be entitled to from our National Health Service.
I know the decision on King George Hospital has been referred to the Independent Review Panel but I would urge the Minister to ask the Secretary of State to exercise his power to halt the proposed closure. The Department, NHS London and the Trust need to sort out the quality and the finances, not shut the door for patients by killing off the hospital.
And worse still Mr Speaker. We campaigned for years – ever since I became the MP 16 years ago – to get new health services, including maternity services, built on the old Barking Hospital site which was closed in the 1980s. My constituents want high quality maternity services close to home, with babies born in Barking again.
We finally won that battle and now we’ve got a brand new, state of the art maternity unit on the site – literally standing empty whilst Queens hospital continues to fail. I have now been told that no babies will be born in Barking Hospital until March 2012.
This is an outrageous scandal. It was supposed to open last year and the building has been ready for months.
I would ask the Minister to confirm in her reply, that she will investigate the reasons why the unit has not opened and instruct her officials to get it open and working as soon as possible.
Lastly, but most crucially, I would ask the Minister to establish a fully independent and impartial Inquiry into maternity services at Queens. We’ve had enough and we want somebody who has extensive experience in their profession appointed by the Secretary of State to establish what is wrong and prescribe action to put it right. I would sincerely say to the Minister that I have now concluded that nothing less will do.
Perhaps she will listen to the words of some women who have been through the experience of having a baby at Queens:
One who said: ‘All of my friends that have had their babies at Queens have all received such poor treatment that it’s really made them think twice whether to have any more children.’
Another: ‘I struggle to see how closing a maternity unit that is better performing in favour of one that is in effect under notice to improve can be the right decision for local people.’
And finally a woman who said: ‘If I have another baby I flat refuse to go to Queens.’
I would ask the Minister to listen to these women and to act to support their best interests and to protect mothers and babies in our corner of North East London by delivering a safe, patient focused service in which we can all have confidence.”