In the UK, we have the National Health Service (NHS), which was set up just after the end of the Second World War in a bid to bring good quality healthcare to all. A lot has changed since 1948 but the principles remain. This is our NHS. All UK citizens receive their National Insurance card once they reach the age of sixteen and as soon as they are employed, they pay into the system. This means that all UK residents are entitled to receive the same level of care, no matter how much money they have. I am only too well aware of how important the NHS is and I am extremely grateful to be living in a country where we are all entitled to medical attention, despite our bank balances. This doesn’t mean that the NHS always works the way it should, though.
There is a lot of debate at the moment about the new British government’s plans for the NHS. It has to be said that changes do need to be made, but not everybody agrees with the plans that have been proposed so far. But the fact that we get to voice our opinions is one of the great things about the NHS. It belongs to us all.
Maternity care in the UK has also been in the news in recent years, with some hospitals across England failing to provide adequate care for women. It is evident that care differs greatly from one hospital to another, and even from one patient to another. Despite the best intentions of Aneurin Bevan, the Health Secretary who opened the first NHS hospital in Manchester, not every patient in the UK receives the best care available. This is why it is so important for pregnant women and new mothers to know their patient rights.
There is plenty of readily available information regarding maternity care and patient’s rights according to the NHS and many social groups are already well informed. However, it tends to be those women from vulnerable social groups who don’t know, or who feel unable to pursue, their patient rights. It’s a sad fact that some women are let down by the NHS when they have their baby and private hospitals are reporting a rise in patients booking with them instead. See many of the resources listed below for reading resources. For women wishing to do so, a good place to start when looking for private healthcare is the Private Healthcare UK site (http://www.privatehealth.co.uk/private-healthcare-services/private-maternity-services/). A full list of all options available in the UK can be explored, giving women extra choices when it comes to having her baby.
Finding Out About Patient's Rights When Pregnant
So what are the rights of a pregnant woman in the UK? Firstly, she is able to choose her own hospital and antenatal clinic. Recent legislation has been changed to make this possible, but not all General Practitioners (G.Ps) let women know. When a referral is made to the midwife, women are entitled to choose from any hospital in the country. Secondly, all pregnant women are entitled to access to a midwife or midwifery team. This midwife may be based at the hospital, at the GP’s surgery or in a health clinic/ children’s centre. If they don’t have one already, all pregnant women are also entitled to a GP, who may or may not provide antenatal care and delivery. Pregnant women are also entitled to an obstetrician based at the hospital of their choice. They may not need to meet with this obstetrician but they can request this.
All women are entitled to receive care from all three medical professionals throughout their pregnancies, although many will not actually need to meet with their obstetrician unless there is a specific problem. The midwife, GP and obstetrician will be assigned based on where the patient lives but if, for whatever reason, she wishes to change these providers, she is perfectly within her rights to do this. The easiest way to do this is to speak to the senior midwife at the hospital. There is a wealth of information on these basic patient rights on the Citizen’s Advice Bureau’s website, in their NHS Patients Rights section (http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/nireland/healthcare_ni/healthcare_nhs_healthcare_e/nhs_patients_rights.htm#Maternityservices).
Find out more information on your rights:
- The official NHS site (http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/HomePage.aspx)
- The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS: http://www.aims.org.uk/)
- NICE (http://www.nice.org.uk/) .