Guest post: As well as the accident and emergency unit, Lewisham hospital’s maternity unit is also under threat from the Kershaw report into south-east London’s health services, which suggests that maternity services be carried out at Queen Elizabeth, Princess Royal, King’s College and St Thomas’s Hospitals, with Lewisham listed as only having a “potential” unit.
Erith & Thamesmead’s Labour MP Teresa Pearce criticised the plan last week at a meeting in Eltham. “Believe me, you don’t know how complex a birth can be until you’re in labour,” she said. Cuts at Lewisham would “have knock-on effects for all of us,” she added.
Clare Griffiths‘ son James, now five, was born at Lewisham. She takes up the story of how his life was saved by the staff there – and how being close to a maternity unit made caring for him much easier.
Lewisham hospital’s maternity unit handles around 4,400 deliveries a year, most of which (to use Matthew Kershaw’s language) are unremarkable. But what happens when things don’t go according to plan?
That’s what happened to me when I had my first child, James, at Lewisham hospital back in 2007.
I was 33 weeks pregnant when a bout of food poisoning brought on premature labour and I ended up on the maternity ward being given drugs to try and stop it.
They didn’t work, and James was scanned and found to be breech (feet down instead of head down), so I had to have an emergency caesarian section.
I also had an injection to try and mature James’s lungs a bit more, as at 33 weeks they aren’t necessarily mature enough to allow baby to breathe independently. These need 12 hours to work.
The team from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit came to see me before I had the c-section to explain what was likely to happen – I would have my baby, then he would be taken away from me to be resuscitated if necessary and put in an incubator in the NICU. This was not to be a normal “unremarkable” experience.
James was born at 6:25am, only about 6 hours after having the injection – they’d had to move to do the c-section quicker than they’d hope because the drugs to slow down labour hadn’t worked and I was in danger of getting to second stage labour.
He actually cried straight away – the relief I felt at that point is hard to describe – which meant I got to hold him for a very short time before he was taken to NICU and put in an incubator.
I was taken to recovery and didn’t see him again until the following day. At this point he was out of the incubator and into the low dependency nursery A of the special care baby unit (SCBU).
I had to express breast milk for him, as he was being tube fed. Expressing works best if you can do it near to your baby, as it helps the milk to flow. Regular visits down to SCBU were therefore essential, and despite finding movement difficult because of the section, by the following afternoon I was able to walk (slowly) down there myself.
The day after that I was discharged to make room for other mothers and James stayed in SCBU. Fortunately Lewisham hospital is a short drive from our house, so although I wasn’t able to drive myself, I could be driven there with relative ease. There’s also two buses that go there from near to our house so getting there quickly on public transport is straightforward.
This was really important, as I needed to get there to express milk for him, not having an expensive breast pump of my own, and obviously I wanted to spend as much time with him as I possibly could, so was travelling there twice a day or more. I spent a lot of time crying as well – to say this was not what I’d imagined is a huge understatement.
Six days later we were able to bring James home. Suffice to say that they were six of the longest days of my life. I cannot imagine what any of that would have been like if Lewisham hospital hadn’t had a maternity unit.
I would have given birth at King’s, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Royal or perhaps even St Thomas’. When I had been discharged, my baby would have been miles away in an inaccessible hospital.
There is simply no way I would have been able to visit him as often as I did at Lewisham. This would have made a difficult time into an impossible one. It was heartbreaking enough to have to leave him knowing he was fairly nearby and I could visit often.
It would have been cruel to think that I would only have been able to get there perhaps once a day, bearing in mind that I’d also had major abdominal surgery to get James out, so moving around was painful and difficult. On top of that, expressing milk would also have been more difficult – I wouldn’t have been able to use the hospital’s industrial-grade pump, I’d have had to buy my own and if I couldn’t afford that then that would have been the end of breastfeeding full stop.
Breast milk is really important for premature babies, even more so than full-term ones, so that would have been worse for James’s health and development.
In the end, my story is a happy one, and I fully believe that having given birth at Lewisham was absolutely essential to that outcome.
We cannot stand by and let Jeremy Hunt and his cronies take our maternity unit away from us. We owe it to all those mothers who have yet to give birth there, and especially to those whose stories will turn out to be a little out of the ordinary.
Paediatric consultants have also responded to the report – see here to read their criticisms.
For more on the consultation, which ends on 13 December, see the TSA website. For more on the campaign to protect Lewisham’s hospital services, see Save Lewisham Hospital. There’s a consultation meeting at The Valley in Charlton on Monday at 7pm.