'I nearly died during childbirth - and I have no idea why'

A mother holds the hand of a new baby.

Maternity care failures cost the NHS in England £2.3bn a year - Credit: PA Images

I nearly died in 1994.  

I wasn’t ill, I didn’t have an accident, there was nothing wrong with me, and I have no idea why. 

All I know is that I had gone into hospital (the Whittington) where I was chemically induced and gave birth, too speedily. Five minutes later I nearly bled to death.  

There was no investigation, I was patched up and given a couple of blood transfusions, and sent on my way with my baby.  

For years the experience has stayed at the back of my mind.   


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Tender young mothers tend not make a fuss because there is no opportunity to. They leave the hospital, however grim the experience, with smiles and boxes of chocolates for the ward staff, who have been lovely and kind, and holding their baby tight, they get on with the rest of their busy lives.   

Sue Hessel is prepared to wrap up and attend a carol service in the garden.

Sue Hessel is worried about the impact The Mary Feilding Guild Care Home story could have on us all - Credit: Sue Hessel

Shockingly, over 1,000 babies in the UK each year die or are left with severe brain injury, as a result of something going wrong during labour.  

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Last week’s select committee’s devastating report on the safety of childbirth care estimates that maternity care failures cost the NHS in England £2.3bn a year, and identifies a systemic culture in which lessons are too often not learned.  

The publication in January of the Care Quality Commission’s downgrading of the Royal Free Hospital’s maternity services, makes grim reading. Three of their questions: Are services safe? Are services responsive to people’s needs? Are services well led? are all downgraded with an “Inadequate” rating.  

It precedes the maternity services scandal at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, a fortnight ago, and comes hot on the heels of recent other damning inquiries of NHS maternity services in England.   

From a financial viewpoint alone, it makes no sense to risk avoidable brain injury of even one baby. But from a humanitarian viewpoint it is absolutely vital that babies are not put at risk.   

Birth is the foundation of our life, but it is one of the most fragile moments of our existence. It should be accorded the greatest efforts of our National Health Service.  

Sue Hessel is a campaigner from Crouch End.

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