Your Rights

During Pregnancy

Some people find pregnancy and birth a roller coaster of emotions and often, at some point in their journey, they feel vulnerable and insecure. It is the responsibility of your care providers to listen and offer you support in times of vulnerability and uncertainty. However, if you feel you are not being listened to, your wishes are not being respected or you have concerns around your care, you have a right to challenge this. If appropriate, seek advice from organisations that can help you seek the care you deserve and are entitled to.

Birthrights is an organisation that champions respectful care during pregnancy and childbirth by protecting human rights. Their work is driven by the following statements:

  • Everyone has a right to receive safe and appropriate maternity care.
  • Every woman and birthing person has a right to maternity care that respects their fundamental human dignity.
  • Everyone has a right to privacy and confidentiality.
  • Every woman and birthing person is free to make choices about their own pregnancy and childbirth, even if their caregivers do not agree with them.
  • Everyone has a right to equality and freedom from discrimination.
Birthrights

Birthrights

Birthrights champions respectful care during pregnancy and childbirth by protecting human rights. It provides advice and information on your legal rights, trains doctors and midwives, and campaigns to change maternity policy and systems.

Put simply, everyone has human rights and there are laws in place that state the way we can expect to be treated by public bodies such as the NHS. The laws ensure that human rights must be respected when making decisions and everyone who works within that public service must respect human rights while they work. Your human rights are also protected by clinical negligence law. You have the right to make your own decisions without the control or influence of others and health professionals must always seek your informed consent.

Informed Consent means agreeing to allow something to happen, or to do something, with a full understanding of all the facts, possible risks, and available alternatives.

Can I ask to change midwife or obstetrician if I am not happy?

Yes. If you are unhappy with the care you are receiving, or for whatever reason you feel uncomfortable with your midwife or obstetrician (doctor), you are within your rights to request that you are cared for by someone else. You do not have to give a reason for wanting to change care provider and you should not be challenged to do so.

You can ask the Head of Midwifery at the maternity unit that is caring for you if you would like to see a different midwife. You can ask the Clinical Lead for Maternity if you would like to see a different doctor.

A highly experienced senior midwife, manager and professional leader who oversees the running of the maternity unit and has responsibility for maternity services.

The most senior midwife in an NHS Trust or Health Board. The Director of Midwifery provides the corporate, strategic, professional lead for delivery of maternity services.

Making a complaint

If you have concerns regarding your care during pregnancy, talk to your midwife or doctor as soon as you can. If this conversation doesn’t resolve the issues, or you want further information or action, you can contact the Head or Director of Midwifery, who will support you. Their contact details will be on the hospital website.

Birthrights offers a free and confidential advice service that helps pregnant people who need advice about rights in maternity care. Contact them via the contact form. Another organisation that specialises in providing advice and guidance to anyone who accesses NHS services, is the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) Team sometimes also known as the Patient Experience Team or Concerns Team. Details can be found here link.

PALS - Patient Advice and Lioaison Service
PALS - Patient Advice and Liaison Service

PALS

This is an NHS group made up of women and birthing people; their families; maternity service staff and commissioners who work together to review and develop local maternity care. It is led by an independent lay chair who ensures those using our services are fully represented.

Providing feedback to improve

If you wish to provide feedback – both good and bad – about your maternity care, you can talk to your local maternity and neonatal voices partnership (MNVP). This group includes people who have used maternity services, midwives, doctors, commissioners, and others who work together to improve local maternity care. You can share feedback with your MNVP about your experience to make positive changes for others and also get involved in the work they do to improve your local services.

Contact your MNVPs for Ipswich and Northeast Essex here. The National Maternity Voices group has a map with details of MNVPs across the country. Here you will find the contact details for the MNVP closest to your maternity unit.

Suffolk & North East Essex Maternity & Neonatal Voices

Maternity and Neonatal Voices Partnerships (MNVP)

This is an NHS group made up of women and birthing people; their families; maternity service staff and commissioners who work together to review and develop local maternity care. It is led by an independent lay chair who ensures those using our services are fully represented.

Reflecting on your experience after birth

What is the Birth Reflections Service?

We know that birth is unpredictable and sometimes outcomes are not what we had expected or hoped for. It is important that you voice your concerns or confusion about your birth experience, your care or the care of your baby. Perhaps you need clarification for yourself and your birthing partner, or you have a more specific complaint about an incident that involved an unnecessary lack of choice, disrespectful treatment, or avoidable birth trauma.

In most maternity units, NHS midwives run a ‘Birth debrief’ or ‘Birth Reflections’ service. The service offers an opportunity to go through your maternity notes with a midwife and discuss your experience.

You can access this service any time after your baby is born. Sometimes it is recommended that you wait around a month after giving birth before contacting the birth reflections midwife to allow yourself time to settle into parenthood, reflect on your experience, and most importantly feel ready to talk about your experience.

Colchester & Clacton

01206 742779

West Suffolk

From 6 weeks after birth

Ipswich

01473 703000

Birth Debriefs

Sometimes it is helpful to talk through your experience of labour and birth with one of our team. This may be because things hadn’t gone the way you expected, or just because you want to reflect and seek some clarity.

Suffolk and North East Essex maternity services offer those they have cared for the opportunity to talk through their birth experience with a midwife.

Having a conversation with a specialist midwife can help bring greater understanding and resolve any unanswered questions you may have.

How you feel about your birth experience matters!

Making a formal complaint about your care or the care of your baby

For some, talking to the people who provided their care about their concerns doesn’t help. Some people may feel that their complaint has not been listened to, or the outcomes of poor care for the birthing person and/or baby have not been adequately addressed. If you feel this way or want to take a more formal step, you can make a complaint using the official NHS complaints procedure.

You can begin a formal complaints procedure by writing a letter outlining your reasons for the complaint and submitting it to the hospital that provided your care. Representatives from the hospital will speak to the healthcare providers who were involved in your overall care and the care of your baby. They will access your medical records and maternity notes to create a detailed and meaningful response to the questions you have put forward and the issues raised in your complaint. Remember, to help you with your complaint, you can access your maternity notes whenever you wish. You can request them from your maternity team.

Address your letter of complaint to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust. You can also send a copy of your complaint to the Head of Midwifery, the Director of Women’s Services, the Director of Nursing, and/or the consultant responsible for your care.

Things to remember:

  • You have 12 months to make a complaint from the time of the maternity care you are complaining about.
  • You can ask to see your healthcare records any time before you complain. This is called a Subject Access Request.
  • Make notes of what happened as soon as you can and ask for your birthing partner’s perspective and account of what happened.

Can I take legal action?

If you feel that your complaint has not been properly dealt with, and you are not happy with the outcome of your complaint, you can take legal action. The court will expect you to have formally complained to the NHS hospital that cared for you before you start legal action. You must have proof that you have tried to resolve the complaint with them before seeking legal advice.

There are time limits for taking legal action:

  • A claim by, or on behalf of, the person who gave birth must be issued within three years of the birth.
  • A child will usually be able to make a legal claim until their 21st birthday.
  • If a child does not have the mental capacity to make a claim there is no time limit for making a claim.

Many solicitors’ firms offer a free legal assessment of personal injury or medical negligence claims. You can find a solicitor at solicitors law society.

Further information and resources 

Making a complaint – Birthrights

Patient Advice and Liaison Service

Action against Medical Accidents 

A charity that promotes better patient safety and justice for people who have suffered avoidable harm. It offers free and confidential advice and support, including a helpline. It also offers more detail on options for funding legal costs including conditional fee agreements. 

Citizens Advice also offers guidance on taking legal action and making a complaint about care.

NHS Resolution (formerly the NHS Litigation Authority) provides information on how negligence claims are handled.

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