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Andrew’s latest contribution to the Health and Social Care Bill

Posted at 6:55pm 30th November, 2011

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 131A proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. My wife and I have three children and have experienced some choice as to whether they were born at home or in hospital. I must admit that this was not a matter to which my wife and I had given a great deal of thought when we had our first child 31 years ago. Then we naively assumed that having a child in hospital was fine and the normal practice. The doctor would look after us. However, the truth is that it was far from normal for a young married couple. We discovered later that everything that was done seemed to be focused not on the well-being of the patient-my wife and child; some would say the customers-but on the interests and timetable of the consultant. Medication was given that was not really needed to ensure that the child was born to fit some preordained hospital schedule, a timetable that I think had more to do with the consultant’s golfing schedule, I discovered later, than the interests of the mother and child. The experience left some scars.

Our second child was born at home in Tower Hamlets, under a new home birth scheme that was quite radical at the time and which was set up by Dr Wendy Savage. I must say that this experience was completely different. We all felt so much more relaxed and in charge of events, as best you can be on such occasions. It all happened rather quickly and in a relaxed atmosphere and was an experience of great joy for us all. The effects of this experience on mother and child, with a competent midwife present, were quite different. I must say that even I felt quite competent in making the tea. The first experience in hospital had all been about a culture of illness at the most important moment of parents’ lives; the latter was about health and well-being.

My wife was 46 years of age when we had our third child, who is now 11. There were concerns about the patient’s age, so she was called in early for a caesarean section. On this occasion, we arrived in the maternity ward in Hackney to be greeted by a man sitting in front of a locked door with two keys for two locks. This felt more like an establishment concerned with the security of nuclear weapons than one responsible for childbirth. Eventually, we gained access and were left in a room with a broken cupboard and rubbish on the floor for two hours, before my wife was eventually shown to her bed. The next morning-the day of the operation-an unknown doctor appeared, hours before the delivery. He came to the bedside and asked: “What did Doctor So-and-so say was going to happen to you today”? No previous records from the usual consultant who my wife had seen were apparently available. Initially, the experience felt as though no one was actually in charge of either the case or the facts. I sat there as an entrepreneur who was quite used to intervening in events, but in this case I was quite out of my depth. Eventually, an external midwife arrived who was apparently on the list for that day. She immediately took charge of events and there was quickly a sense of confidence and well-being. She was fantastic.

Our family’s three experiences of childbirth are sadly not unique; what is on offer in our hospitals’ maternity services is quite varied. It is really important that the interests of the mother and child are paramount and centre stage at this important moment of life, and that they have real choice in the provision of maternity services. My colleagues and I created one of the first LIFT companies in the United Kingdom, in east London. It has now built 10 health centres in the East End. One of those new health centres, on the Isle of Dogs, has a birthing suite in it and the quality of care that the midwives give to mothers is excellent. Indeed, the then chairman of the LIFT company reminded me recently that one local East End mum had described the birthing suite, based in a local East End community, as being like a “bleeding hotel”. This is the quality and choice of services that patients deserve and for this reason, I support the amendment.

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