Maternity Services

Mark contributed to a debate in Westminster Hall tabled by Harry Cohen MP on maternity services. Mark wanted to raise the particular problems experienced in inner London hospitals.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) on securing this important debate. He highlighted some of the specific problems in London but, as a predominantly loyal member of the governing party, he downplayed some of those concerns. However, the Minister has plenty of food for thought.

I have direct experience of maternity services. Six weeks ago, my first son was born. It is with some regret that my wife and I decided to go private, partly because of the acute problems with midwifery and maternity services in London. We went to the Lindo wing at St. Mary?s hospital, Paddington where we received tremendous service throughout from Dr. Raj Rai.

I was born in the health service, albeit at a British military hospital in Germany, and I was educated in the state sector, so I did not take lightly the decision to use a private hospital; it was a reflection of the problems in the national health service. Those problems predate 1997 so I am not trying to make a narrow political point. Although we rejoice at some of the great successes of our national health service, there are some real problems, which platitudes from politicians on both sides of the House do little to resolve.

My wife had a caesarean and she had to stay in hospital for four days after the birth of our son, Frederick. I reflected that the service we received, which was tremendous, was unlikely to be received by mothers who had given birth a few hundred yards away in the main St. Mary's hospital. I know that from a number of constituents. There have been too many horror stories from friends in central London who have gone through the national health service, not just at St. Mary?s, Paddington, but at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. I shall refer to one or two examples from a letter that I received only this week.

There are problems because women are passed from pillar to post, from trainee midwife to locum midwife during the pregnancy, and there are problems after the birth. Such problems are particularly acute in the capital for a number of reasons. As I have often said, the trade unions may like national pay bargaining, but in a nationalised health service it does no great service for people living in London. That also applies to the education system. There are acute problems with our public services in London, and in the south-east, because the cost of living is so enormous.

There has been an explosion in the birth rate, to which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead rightly referred, largely due to immigration. There is no doubt that a vibrant, young work force have come to work in the UK, particularly in London but also in other parts of the country and in other large cities. Young people in their 20s and 30s are at the fertile age and they are likely to have children. Since enlargement of the European Union three and a half years ago, we have known that there would be an explosion in the number of young people coming to live and work in the UK, yet there has been insufficient planning. The hon. Gentleman was too polite to make the point as blatantly as I have.

The problem applies not just in London, but outside. There is little doubt that in central London there are specific problems of hypermobility and hyperdiversity; many people are moving around and living in our cities, and 90 languages are spoken in the diverse population in my constituency. Regrettably, that puts undue pressure on inner-city health care.

I shall refer to a constituency case. A letter from Mrs. Sarah Meier of St. George?s square, Pimlico arrived in my office only last week. Her experience is not typical, but it is not unusual, and on a personal level it was one reason why I decided that the national health service was not fit for purpose in my constituency. I regret that, but I have seen the problems as a Member of Parliament, and as someone who has friends who have used central London hospitals for childbirth in recent years.

Mrs Meier said:

"I am writing to bring your attention to how dissatisfied I am with the treatment my baby son and I received after giving birth at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on 9 November 2007. I am writing so that you can take action to prevent others having to suffer what we endured…the treatment we received afterwards on the…Ward was a disgrace. I had an epidural during labour and also an?"

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): Episiotomy.

Mr. Field: Episiotomy. I bow to my hon. Friend's medical knowledge.

Mrs Meier had

"an episiotomy with extensive associated bleeding. So I had to stay in hospital overnight and was moved to the…Ward. The conditions of hygiene and care in that ward were appalling. During my 24 hour stay my bedding was never changed. I had to sit in my own blood and nobody came to check me. Later that week, after I had gone home, it was found that I had an infection. I, and the GP who several days later saw me as an emergency, are both sure that this was due to the conditions in the ward and the lack of interest taken in my wellbeing. I thought the prevention of infection was supposed to be?"

a top priority. That episode occurred only two and a half months ago. Mrs Meier continued:

"The GP also diagnosed me as having anaemia. Again this could and should have been picked up on by someone on the ward, but nobody had bothered to come and check on me…This is my first child and I was attempting to breastfeed him. This was particularly challenging as my milk had not yet come in properly. The midwife on duty shouted at me for not doing it the 'correct way'. My son and I were discharged from hospital on Saturday 10th November. My son was checked by the paediatrician prior to discharge."

It transpired that the baby had suffered from post-birth jaundice, so within 24 hours of leaving hospital he had to be rushed back into hospital at the behest of a GP. The whole episode was very traumatic, but it could have been avoided if the paediatrician had picked up the problem before discharge. That is by no means an untypical experience. I am sorry to have to bring it up on the Floor of the House, but it is appropriate to do that in this place, rather than going through a lot of platitudes about various targets and figures and saying how marvellous the health service is.

In many areas, such as central London, the health service is not fit for purpose. Mrs. Meier said her experience was a contrast to the excellent care and attention that her sister-in-law received only last year when she gave birth in Harrogate district hospital. She said:

"It is difficult to believe that both hospitals are part of the same health service."

That goes to the heart of the issue about a national health service. Mrs. Meier said that in no circumstances would she have another child at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. She advises all her friends to avoid the place.

As I said, I am sorry that I have had to bring up the matter on the Floor of the House. However, such distressing episodes are increasingly common in central London, and not only in relation to maternity services; there are difficult problems in respect of hypermobility and hyperdiversity, to which I have referred. Problems stem from the explosion in the number of young people who come to the UK and give birth in this country. There are specific problems in London, to which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) rightly drew attention. The Minister, who is also a London MP, will be aware of some of the issues that have been raised, although that is not to say that there are not some very positive stories.

There are positive stories about some of our hospitals, even though they are under great strain in central London. None the less, I hope that the Minister will consider some of my specific concerns, which are not just about money, although the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead got it right when he said that we face a financial crisis in London in relation to maternity care. I hope that the Minister will give maternity services proper investment and attention in the months and years to come.