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Maternity problems at Newham University Hospital aired at council meeting

PUBLISHED: 16:15 15 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:15 15 March 2019

Picture: Luke Acton.

Picture: Luke Acton.

Luke Acton

Newham mums have shared their traumatic experiences at Newham University Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with Newham Council.

Demonstrators are opposing the use of screen to hide women in the NICU, a lack of communication around formula feeding and what they say is a general lack of compassionate care on the ward. Picture: Luke Acton.Demonstrators are opposing the use of screen to hide women in the NICU, a lack of communication around formula feeding and what they say is a general lack of compassionate care on the ward. Picture: Luke Acton.

Dozens of mothers protested against the quality of maternity care at the hospital on Friday and more than 350 people have signed a petition to get changes at the facility.

Karis White and fellow Newham mum Carolyn Hounsell were at Tuesday’s health and adult social care scrutiny commission meeting.

Both women have said they were hidden by screens when they were breastfeeding on the NICU and their babies given formula without their consent.

Karis said that when she refused the screen she was put in the corner of the room and told that this is normal procedure by the senior NICU nurse at a February meeting.

This was confirmed by Carolyn, who was also at the meeting. They were told that the procedure is in place because a man had once complained about seeing breastfeeding.

“This is about our rights and these traumas stay with mothers forever, these infant feeding violations,” Karis told the committee.

“How your baby is fed is really important, not only emotionally, but physically for your and the babies long-term health.

“If that’s undermined in those early hours after birth, in those early days after birth, then that is something that you can’t change.”

Placards supporting the ability to choose breastfeeding or formula at the East Ham town hall. Picture: Luke Acton.Placards supporting the ability to choose breastfeeding or formula at the East Ham town hall. Picture: Luke Acton.

The problems at the NICU have only come to light because the women who experience them are often too traumatised to revisit their time at the hospital and busy looking after their newborns.

A spokeswoman for Barts Health, which manages Newham Hospital, said that there is not policy of screening women when they are breastfeeding.

The only time that screens are used, she added, is when mothers want them.

Both of the mums spoke with some of the trust’s directors before the commission meeting. They said the talk was positive.

Karis White represented Newham mum's at Tuesday's meeting of the Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Commission. Picture: Luke Acton.Karis White represented Newham mum's at Tuesday's meeting of the Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Commission. Picture: Luke Acton.

Director of nursing at Newham Hospital Louise Crosby was one of the hospital staff there.

“We offered a full and unreserved apology for the times when we have not met the high standards that we strive to achieve,” she said.

“We are pleased that going forward we will work together along with the local community and maternity organisations to ensure that all women at Newham’s neonatal intensive care unit feel supported and advised in making their choices.”

Measures to stop the problems on the ward include better signage about screens and formula, staff training and a mums’ working group to get their perspective on the hospital’s practices.

All three of the Barts Health directors at the commission said the NICU’s issue was a culture problem, rather than a competence one.

Maternity staff are tired of the department’s reputation and want a zero-tolerance policy for poor behaviour with patients, said director of midwifery Gloria Rowland.

Challenging poor behaviour when it’s seen and developing a ‘charter of behaviour’ to formalise what’s acceptable are two of the ways they are trying to improve the culture.

Maternity at Newham Hospital is Barts Health’s worst performing department, according to a February CQC report.

While there was no big problem with maternity, there was a ‘sequence of significant concerns’ that had to be fixed immediately, Health managing director Tony Holton told the committee.

He added that “Maternity has been of concern for some time.”

Both he and Ms Crosby arrived at the trust after the inspection that informed that report.

There were 6,204 births at Newham Hospital last year.

A new report into the department expected by the end of March in response to those warnings.

Mr Holton said: “I can’t tell you the outcome of the report [because it is under embargo until it is officially published], but we were very happy and the CQC were very happy with what they had seen in a short period of time in terms of improvement.

“It’s really important for us that we get maternity built-up substantively into a very positive service for women, where women can feel confident.”

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