No quick solutions to sweltering hospital labour ward, Milton Keynes Council committee told

Mums-to-be have been sweltering in tropical conditions at Milton Keynes Hospital – but little can be done to solve the problem in the short term, a council committee heard.

Mums-to-be have been sweltering in tropical conditions at Milton Keynes Hospital – but little can be done to solve the problem in the short term, a council committee heard.

A hospital corridor

A hospital corridor

Councillors have been probing women’s experiences of maternity services at MK’s University Hospital and took the opportunity to grill the head of midwifery at a meeting on Wednesday (October 9).

The “hot environment” was mentioned by councillors amid other concerns on a number of occasions at the Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee. Some 3,750 babies are born every year at the hospital, which has 53 beds across all its maternity functions, 11 birthing rooms and two birthing pools.

They decided to send a letter to hospital chief executive Joe Harrison, to outline their concerns as well as recognise all the positive changes there have been in maternity services over the last seven years.

Responding at the meeting to concerns, Julie Cooper, the hospital’s head of midwifery, said: “In the summer, with the heat it is almost unbearable. We’re trying to manage it with cooling systems but we just can’t get it right all of the time.”

She also said there were plans to change the layout of the labour ward to give mums more space, and to create a midwifery led unit. “By the start of the next financial year we are hoping it will be up and running,” she said.

In the longer term, she said plans are emerging for the hospital to have its own specialist maternity and children’s unit.

Rachael Bickley, who chairs the women’s watchdog group Maternity:MK, praised the maternity unit for making improvements but added: “We would love to have a women’s health unit. We desperately need it.”

She also reported that one of the biggest issues for women was having birth inductions in close proximity to other people, sometimes in open wards. Julie Cooper said the hospital is planning to move from six beds in a bay to four beds in a bay to create more space.

Cllr Hannah O’Neill (Lab, Woughton & Fishermead), a council cabinet member, said her concern was over continuity of care after both her children had tongue tie, which restricts their ability to breast feed. She had her second child in the spring, and the issue was not picked up, despite her son losing weight.

“I had a bad experience of post-natal care,” said Cllr O’Neill. “I saw a different midwife every few days and nobody listened to me, despite the fact he was losing weight. Tongue tie was missed twice, so how do we get over that hurdle?”

Julie Cooper said that the hospital is working to improve continuity of care. “Staff training on tongue tie will help stabilise, but we won’t get it right 100 per cent of the time,” she added.

Cllr Alice Jenkins, who chairs the committe, had also given birth to a son at the hospital before the local elections in May.

She said: “Change isn’t going to happen quickly, so what are you going to do to make it better. Inductions being made with other people so close is an issue.

“I noticed that there is a card reader in the ward where mums can pay for a private room.”

The midwifery head said an assessment is being carried out to see if the six bed bays in the wards can be changed into four bed bays. “It would make a greater distance between beds and make things a little bit more comfortable.

“It is something we are aware of and it is not perfect by any means at all, but we are sometimes constrained by the building that we have. It is on the agenda and an ongoing piece of work.”

Julie Cooper also said the hospital has been successful in recruiting midwives from Stoke Mandeville, Bedford, Northampton, and London, and is hoping to report a full contingent in the near future.