The day you give birth is one of the most incredible and memorable days of your life, and whilst you may try to plan the ideal birth, babies have a funny way of making sure that things don’t always go to plan!!  However, you can do your research and make informed decisions that will hopefully help things to go in the right direction.  One of the biggest decisions is where you will have your baby home or hospital?  If you’ve decided on hospital, which one?  What are the things you should be looking out for?

Here we share with you what you should be investigating before making your decision…

What should I know about my maternity ward?

Birth safety is a primary concern for expectant mothers. With the news that one-fifth of all spending in maternity services goes towards covering negligence claims, it is becoming increasingly vital that mothers-to-be are able to access all the information they need regarding the maternity ward they plan to give birth on.

It is important to highlight that most of the pressures on maternity wards are due to under staffing and high birth rates and that the vast majority of women give birth with no complications. However, with more maternity services falling into special measures, it is crucial that expecting parents are able to make informed decisions about where they give birth.

How to check your local unit is compliant with the appropriate standards

The Care Quality Commission publishes the results of its maternity patient surveys online, the results include an analysis of care during labour and birth as well as any after care that takes place within the hospital. Patient surveys are a valuable resource as they will provide you with a broader view of the quality of the care on your local maternity unit.

These surveys measure:

  • The advice given by staff
  • Birthing choices
  • Responsiveness
  • Clear communication
  • Confidence and trust
  • Cleanliness

The above sections are given a score out of ten and these results are used to discover an average. Each unit is then provided with an overall score which places them into a league table.

How to discover more about your local maternity unit

Every NHS trust in the country has a Maternity Services Liaison Committee (MSLC). These groups are put in place to discuss problems and suggest ways in which each maternity unit can be improved. Members include NHS and Community staff members, as well as parents and recent users of the service. Some MSLC’s have their own websites in which they publish maternity unit statistics, news and stories. These sites are a reliable source of information and will provide patients with a better picture of the standard of service within each unit.

Local papers often report on hospital statistics and events so try searching your local newspaper online. Make sure to check stories which have been published over the last couple of years, this will give you a more comprehensive understanding on how the overall level of care has fluctuated, if at all.

Ask former patients about their experiences whilst at the unit such as friends, family members or neighbours. If you are attending an antenatal class, this may also present a good opportunity to source more information.

Make sure you ask about the issues that matter to you as well as the general safety of the ward. Questions about birth experience, levels of care and antenatal support from someone who has had direct experience with that unit can go a long way to influencing your decision.

What should I be checking?

  • Consultant cover – how many hours is a consultant present on the ward, if at all? Midwife led units mean that a consultant will not be present; this could be a problem if your labour becomes difficult. If your pregnancy is high risk or it is your first child it is advised by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) that you give birth in a hospital or consultant led unit.
  • Paediatrician cover – is there a paediatrician on your unit and if so how many hours of the day are they available? If there is not a specialist on the unit, ask about the emergency strategy in place if anything were to go wrong during your birth.
  • Midwife availability and capacity – occasionally, due to under staffing and lack of capacity, maternity units are forced to close to admissions. It is therefore advised that you check if this is a likely or common occurrence in your local unit, and if they have an alternative strategy for this situation.
  • Hygiene standards – the Care Quality Commission website should provide you with this information. The NHS Choices website will also provide you with the number of complaints that have been made per 10,000 spells of care and allow you to compare different units in your area.
  • Waiting times – check at which point in your labour the unit will admit you for care. Due to high demand, some units have differing requirements.

Many expectant parents are not aware that they have a choice of where to give birth. If your local unit is failing, you have the right to choose another unit further away to give birth. If you do choose to use another unit, it is important to take into consideration travelling times and that you might have a different midwife from a more local unit to deliver your antenatal care.

Ultimately, it is important that as a mother-to-be, you feel happy and safe in your choice of maternity unit in order to remove any unnecessary stress from the situation and ensure that you have the best birth possible.

Ashleigh Harman is a Digital Content Writer for Lees Solicitors who use their years of experience in medical negligence claims, to offer a compassionate and understanding service.