What are you entitled to expect during your maternity care?

11th March 2022 Clinical Negligence

When attending medical appointments, receiving medical treatment, or when giving birth, many people feel out of their comfort zone. Often, they feel intimidated or find it hard to make themselves heard.

It is understandable you might feel nervous and worried. We all do. Most of us don’t have the qualifications, experience and expertise of the medical staff and we have to put our trust in them.

The clients who come to us for specialist advice, when sadly they or their baby have been injured as a result of their medical treatment, often tell us that they did not fully understand the medical terminology being used or what was going on. When the staff were busy, they found it difficult to get someone’s attention and hard to say what their concerns were. Many tell us that they felt that they were not being listened to.

Whilst we appreciate that knowing what you are entitled to expect and ask for does not magically resolve all of these issues, we hope that it is a first step in helping people like you and our clients to assert their rights.

With that in mind, we set out some the rights you have when receiving maternity (and indeed all medical) care, which our clients most often ask us about.

You have the right to:

1. Respect, Dignity, Equality and Privacy

  • Healthcare professionals should be polite and respectful and treat you with dignity and respect.
  • You are entitled to privacy and confidentiality 
  • Everyone should be treated equally
  • You should not be discriminated against
  • You should be supported to make decisions about your care, for example staff should explain what is happening in a way you can understand. They should offer the use of an interpreter if English is not your first language.

2. Choice and Consent

  • You have the choice to decide where you give birth and what treatment you have.
  • You should be involved in all decision making.
  • All treatment options available to you should be discussed with you and you should be told the pros and cons of each so that you can make a fully informed choice. For example, you should be able to discuss the different options for delivery, including whether you want a caesarean section or if you are happy for forceps to be used.
  • You must give your consent before receiving any treatment. For example, medical staff must ask if you agree before carrying out a vaginal examination or giving you any medication, such as antibiotics.
  • The consent you give must be ‘informed’. That means the reason for the treatment, the benefits and the side effects and the alternatives should be gone through with you. You can then say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is not enough just to ask if you agree with a decision when you do not know all about it.
  • It is not for a doctor or midwife to decide what is best for you and your baby. That is your decision.
  • Please note a baby does not have rights until born, so the decisions regarding your pregnancy and the birth are yours to make unless you lack the mental capacity to do so.

3. Basic care

  • In hospital you should be able to access all the basic care you need – for example, food, water and support to go to toilet
  • You should receive sufficient pain relief and you should not be refused pain relief when you need it unless there is good medical reason

What can you do if your rights are not being respected?

If you feel that you are not being treated in line with the above principles then you can:

  • Ask your obstetrician or midwife to provide you with what you need, for example a full explanation of any treatment you are offered and to discuss your options and the pros and cons of each.
  • Ask your partner, a relative or friend to be with you if at all possible to give your moral support and to ask questions with (or for) you if necessary
  • If you feel you are not being listened to, ask to speak to a senior member of the maternity team – your consultant/head midwife
  • Consult the hospital’s patient liaison service (PALS)
  • Seek support from local or national maternity charities. For example, if you are concerned about GBS you can contact GBS Support
  • If your rights are not respected and that has an adverse impact on you, or you or your baby suffer an injury as a result of not receiving the care you should have, then you may be able to bring a legal claim and you can consult a lawyer.
  • If you want to know more, the rights referred to above can be found in the following documents
  • The NHS constitution
  • The Human Rights Act 1998
  • The Equality Act 2010
  • Guidelines issued by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Nursing and Midwifery Council for example see here
  • Court decisions in medical cases, for example on the issue of ‘informed consent’ the case of Montgomery 

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Nicola Wainwright is a Partner and Head of London Clinical Negligence located in Londonin our Clinical Negligence department

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