So That Other Doctors May Learn

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.

7 Comments on So That Other Doctors May Learn

  1. Lizzie Somerset
    April 11, 2016 at 11:25 am (1 year ago)

    I’m so sorry to read about this thoughtless treatment Leigh, and that’s what it is, thoughtless. No thought, no pre-assessment, no preparation. I really hope other doctors read and learn that we are human beings and would like very much to be dealt with as such, in a compassionate manner. My friend had a miscarraiage and had to sit in the same waiting room knowing the baby had gone with other women waiting for their scans. It was really distressing for her. This is such an important post. Well done for writing it. much love Lizzie
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:35 am (1 year ago)

      Thank you Lizzie. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s experience. It just takes a little compassion and empathy to make the world of difference xxx

      Reply
  2. oana79
    April 10, 2016 at 5:53 pm (1 year ago)

    Dear Leigh,
    I am so glad you have taken the time to write this blog post. I know it has been taxing on your emotions, how can it not, but I truly hope that your openness will help other health professionals learn from your experience.
    Your suggestions are practical, common sense and easy to put into practice.
    Unfortunately, for personal experience as well, I know that many doctors and nurses do not take the time to read a patient’s notes. So much hearache could be prevented if they did! It is not only a matter of good practice, it is, as you say, a Duty of Candour, above all. Hugs.xx

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:37 am (1 year ago)

      All so true, lovely Oana. Thank you xxx

      Reply
  3. Sarah
    April 9, 2016 at 8:57 pm (1 year ago)

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this Leigh. I had a similar unempathetic response from my GP after the loss of my son at 21 weeks. She failed to even ask me how I was before declaring that I had depression, she muttered under her breath that I was “clutching at straws” when I asked about some blood tests. I did complain and was offered a face to face with her and the surgery manager- I wasn’t in a place to even consider taking it any further, but wanted her to be aware of how her behaviour could impact on other patients. I too have had fertility treatment and am lucky that it has been as positive an experience as it could be. My final appointment and treatment after the loss of my son were dealt with so well. It’s a shame that this positive, carding behaviour was not present in your appointment. Good luck with the next part of your journey and I hope you meet some warm and caring people along the way.

    Reply
    • Leigh
      April 18, 2016 at 11:37 am (1 year ago)

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Sarah. I’m so sorry to hear about your expriences, all best wishes to you xxx

      Reply
  4. Tara
    April 8, 2016 at 2:10 pm (1 year ago)

    Sorry you’ve not had an appropriate response, Leigh. Good on you for taking it further. I remember a doctor read my notes in front of me, including flicking through the scans of my first pregnancy which I found hugely traumatic to see at that time. I was also in a panic as to what other things might be in there (as a nurse had mentioned photos) and couldn’t concentrate on a single thing he said afterwards. I regret not complaining about it at the time. Is it that they just don’t see patients as people or don’t have time to care?
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    Reply

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