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6 steps to making a complaint

Making a complaint about your maternity care.

Maternity care in the UK is not perfect. Midwives and doctors are human beings, trying to do their job in often strained circumstances. However, that is not an excuse for bad care, by individuals or a unit as a whole.

Making a complaint can help you as an individual to be heard. It can prevent the same happening to other people. It can lead to changes that improve services for all. If we don't complain, how can we expect the situation to get better. All organisations use complaints as a thermometer to assess how they are doing, and to identify individuals that need further support/training, and also systems and services that are not working well.

It can feel daunting to consider making a complaint, but don't. Midwifery managers, hospital trust boards want to know what is going on, and they want to improve services. If you don't tell them your experience it just won't change. Expect your complaint to be met constructively and with sympathy.

AIMS have recently brought out an excellent book Resolution after birth all about recovering from birth trauma and includes information about making a complaint. I thought I would share with you the six simple steps to follow.

Step 1

Write down your story. What you remember happening, what you remember people saying. Ask your birth partners to write down what they remember too. Date this. Write down questions you have? What are the key issues for you that you would like to make a complaint about?

Step 2

Get a copy of your notes. Do this before making a complaint. Sadly records have been known to go missing after a complaint has been made. It is an easy process to get your notes. There is no time limit on doing this. You can do it years and years later.

There should be a section on the hospital's website for their records department. There is usually a downloadable form to print off. Sign it and send in with evidence of you and your address.

They have a month to send it to you but it is usually less than that. It is likely that it will come on an encrypted disc. There should be no charge now.

Step 3

Read through your notes. You can ask for an appointment with a doctor or midwife to explain them. You can also ask an independent midwife or experienced doula to do this. Obviously they would charge for this. Having an independent person can be helpful.

Is there anything else to add to your complaint? Anything missing?

Step 4

If you would like support to make your complaint you can contact PALS (patient advocacy and liaison service). Every hospital has one. They should offer you support in making your complaint. You can also contact them after you have made the written complaint. They may be able to come to any meetings you may have.

Step 5

Make written complaint to the hospital complaints department. You can write to the head of midwifery instead but I am pretty sure that it all has the same system. If you do not want to make a written complaint

Set out

  • what the issues were and

  • what resolution you would like the service to make, for example, acknowledge your situation; make changes to policy/procedure; training for staff.

it is a useful idea to number these points so that you can refer back to them in future correspondence if necessary.

Use the AIMS book to help you. This is the Making a complaint leaflet for NHS England, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

They have a month to respond.

They are likely to write a written response to your complaint. They may offer you a meeting to discuss.

The AIMS book and the regional NHS leaflets give you what would happen if you still are not satisfied with their response.

Step 6

You may like to share your complaint with the chair of your local Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP), as this body is part of putting the voices of families into the design and change of maternity care locally. You can do this as well as or instead of making a written complaint.

I have helped lots of women to complain and have seen the changes this has made to local maternity care. It can also help you to receive really good care in the future. The women I have supported have had really personalised care in future pregnancies. One was even visited, after having the next baby, on the postnatal ward by the head of midwifery to check she was happy with her care.

If you are inspired to make a difference to your local maternity care then do get in touch with your local MVP.

Positives too

You can also contact your local hospital to share the positives of your care, particularly if there is an aspect that you think should be expanded, or that worked very well, or individuals who gave excellent care. You can write to the head of midwifery, and you can copy in the Chief Executive, and the chair of the MVP if you want as well.

I hope you found this helpful. I am currently a doula and antenatal teacher, but I have been supporting local families in one form or another for almost two decades.

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