Yesterday I arrived home from work to a response to my complaint about the appointment with a fertility consultant back in January.
Now, I am fully aware from my years of experience working in the NHS that written responses can lack a human touch. Even so, this response takes the biscuit by refuting our version of events, lies, and worse: a complete absence of learning.
Making a complaint about the care you receive is not done for the fun of it, the joy of enduring the stressful bureaucratic process. Complaints, especially in health, are made so those involved may reflect on what happened, and changes made where appropriate. This is no more evident than in Hugo’s legacy – I cannot change what happened to me, but I can help make other families’ journeys a little easier by talking openly about what happened to me.
The Duty of Candour, created as a result of the Francis Inquiry into avoidable deaths at Mid Staffordshire Hospitals, makes clear the responsibilities of health professionals to be open, honest, to encourage a learning culture.
And to say sorry.
I shall be taking further the matter of denial of events and certain untruths, and as such is therefore inappropriate to explain in more detail on my blog at this time.
But I know many health professionals read my blog and learn from it, and I am determined to make positive change come out of such a negative outcome.
So, here are some points of learning
If you read in a patient’s notes that they have suffered a loss, MAKE SURE YOU READ ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE INVITING THE PATIENT IN TO THE ROOM
In my open letter, I expressed surprise that the doctor got straight down to business, with discussion of results.
The complaint response reads
He was aware that you had suffered a neonatal death from the gynaecology notes, but he did not remember the exact details at the outset.
Would a health professional not make it their business to take a moment to read about the nature of the loss, so that they may at least offer some condolences when meeting the patient?
Reading a patient’s notes may offer a clue about how to open dialogue with them
There is one line in the response that especially upset me.
During your consultation with Mr [X] on 20 January 2016, he felt that you were not interacting or engaging well with him. On his review of your ‘Open Letter’ he has attributed this to your Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It is a terrible shame that the doctor did not have such psychological insight during the appointment.
So much of the upset could have been avoided if he had troubled to read my notes, and to have behaved like a compassionate human being.
I was utterly terrified: having to return to the department that was the scene of so much trauma for me two years ago. On top of that, having to sit in the same waiting room as I had while pregnant with Hugo for our ultrasound scans. Of course, on the day of the appointment, as well as the appontment the previous week where there was no one to take the clinic, other pregnant women were also in the same waiting room.
If he had read the notes, he might have realised that being at the hospital at all was upsetting and distressing for me. I had closed myself off as a means of coping.
Use SANDS teardrop stickers on the parents’ notes
SANDS has teardrop stickers that can be inserted in the mother’s notes, to help clearly identify where a patient has suffered the loss of a baby. The stickers are easy to source and very cheap, and will make a world of difference to the parents’ experience.
If you don’t already use SANDS teardrop stickers, make it happen today.
Find a suitable place for bereaved parents to wait for their appointment
As mentioned above, sitting in that same waiting room didn’t help my emotional wellbeing. Like all hospitals, the one I was in has limited space. However, once you have identified through putting a SANDS teardrop sticker on the patient’s notes that they have lost a baby, it would be kind to at least offer to find the parents an alternative place to wait. A spare office, maybe. Or advise them to get a cup of coffee and the receptionist will call them when ready. Kindness and compassion needn’t cost money, it just needs a bit of thought and reflecting on how you might like to be treated.
Please, take account of this so that other doctors may learn for the benefit of other broken-hearted families.