Health Secretary Victoria Atkins describes 'frightening' experience of giving birth on NHS ward

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins delivers a keynote speech on women’s health strategy during the Women’s Health Summit (PA Wire)
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins delivers a keynote speech on women’s health strategy during the Women’s Health Summit (PA Wire)

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has spoken of her “frightening experience” of giving birth on an NHS ward.

Speaking at the Women’s Health Summit, Ms Atkins described her experience of being taken to hospital with pregnancy complications when having her son in 2011.

The event marked the second year of the Women’s Health Strategy, a 10-year blueprint aiming to break down obstacles women face in healthcare.

Her comments come amid a crisis in maternity care. Last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said 65 per cent of maternity services are now regarded as inadequate or require improvement for safety.

Reports into failings at Morecambe Bay, Shrewsbury and Telford and East Kent have also painted a damning picture of poor care and concerns over the culture on NHS maternity wards.

Ms Atkins said: “The NHS diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes at the age of three. So I have seen the very best of the NHS, but I’ve also seen some of its dark corners.

“One of those dark corners was when I was pregnant. Pregnancy with type 1 diabetes can be a very medicalised process. There came a point in the pregnancy where it became clear that the baby was going to have to be delivered early.”

Ms Atkins sahd she was “rushed ino hospital” but that it “simply did not have he facilities” to look after patients with pregnancy complications. She was subsequently put on a ward with women who had just given birth and had “traumatic experiences”.

“You will understand how deeply worrying, and dare I say frightening, it was to be lying in that ward with women who had a hellish experience, who were in agony. And for me to be there ready to have a baby,” she added.

“Looking back, I know that everybody’s doing their best, but I desperately want to ensure that women who are expecting and who find themselves needing a bit of extra help that they’re not in that situation and they’re not facing the fear that I faced.”

She pledged to make women’s health a “top priority” so that other women “would not face the fear that I faced”.

Ms Atkins also gave her full backing” to NHS measures to end “preventable maternal and baby deaths”, which includes the creation of Maternal Medicine Networks in England.

She said this would require “a laser like focus on birth trauma”.

“Some mums endure simply unacceptable care, and live with the consequences of that trauma for the rest of their lives. Some have told their stories in the media, harrowing experiences of tears prolapses, operations and agony.

“And they’ve done this because they want to shine a light on the impact of such experiences.”

The women’s health hubs programme will also be expanded, aiming to have at least one fully functioning facility in every local area.

Elsewhere, a £50 million National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) “challenge” will explore solutions to tackle maternity disparities.

The call is expected to go out to research teams this spring.