On Saturday afternoon baby Madeleine was born in the car park of the William Harvey Hospital.
Maddy’s mum began having contractions the night before, but on arriving at the hospital they were told to go home. Her contractions were quite far apart and staff didn’t want to commit a bed when another patient might need it more urgently.
Very reluctantly my friends made the 45-minute trip back to Canterbury. Despite their concerns the hospital instructed them to stay at home until much later. By the time they eventually left to make the journey back to the William Harvey, Maddy’s mum had been in labour for well over twelve hours.
As they raced along the A28 in a state of extreme panic, they must have been cursing the state of healthcare in Canterbury. In 2012 the maternity unit at the Kent and Canterbury closed. The NHS Trust argues that it can’t support three major hospitals in east Kent. They claim moving services away from the Kent and Canterbury is cost-effective and improves patient safety.
Maddy’s experience shows why this simply isn’t the case. Firstly, the hospitals in Ashford and Margate are buckling under pressure. The A&E departments in east Kent have the worst waiting times in the country and clearly the maternity units are suffering too. Centralising services doesn’t work if you don’t have enough beds left – especially for mothers who are about to deliver their second child. As most parents know, a second labour can progress a lot faster than the first, so sending my friends home wasn’t a good idea.
The other issue is journey time. Maddy’s parents had spent over two hours in the car before the baby was born. The bumpy road between Canterbury and Ashford isn’t the most comfortable place to go through labour, and it doesn’t matter how good the quality of care at the hospital is if you can’t get there in time.
Ashford residents might argue that if the maternity unit was in Canterbury they would have the same problem, but it’s just a question of numbers. Canterbury has a much larger population than Ashford. The hospital needs to be where the people are.
As Maddy opened her eyes for the first time and glimpsed the interior of a sensible family hatchback, she knew nothing of the problems facing our health service. She is doing very well and her parents are recovering from the ordeal. But this isn’t an isolated incident. My friends were told by staff that the same thing had happened the day before to another family.
Are we heading towards a time where hospital visitors can’t get a parking space because of all the women giving birth in the car park? The east Kent NHS Trust has some serious questions to answer.