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How Safe Are Private Maternity Hospitals?

If you are anything like most mums-to-be, you’re awaiting your big day with excitement, anticipation and, let’s face it, probably a certain amount of anxiety.

How Safe Are Private Maternity Hospitals?

However much you may have achieved in other areas of life, this day will be the most important so far, and you’ll want it to be right.

Expectant mothers worry about all sorts of things when it comes to birthing day; from labour pains to visiting hours. But one thing always stands – safety is uppermost in their minds.

So, if you want to enjoy the greater privacy, peace and patient to staff ratio of a private hospital, you’re probably wondering – how safe are they?

Don’t just tell me I’ll be “fine” – tell me the facts
Here at Private Pregnancy UK, we know how important it is for you to feel assured about the care you’re getting on your birthing day. This comes not simply with pats on the shoulder and assurances of “you’ll be fine”, but with an honest look at facts and figures.

So to help you along, we’ve had a good look at three well-regarded private maternity centres in London; The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, The Lindo Wing, and The Kensington Wing.

Factors to think about
There are a number of different aspects to consider when trying to determine the safety of a private maternity hospital, such as:

  • On Site Facilities
  • Staff Support
  • Obstetric Anaesthetist
  • Safety Statistics

Breaking down our research into these four distinct categories, we’ll help you to understand the sort of safety profile you can expect when going private.

On-Site Facilities
The Portland Hospital is the only fully private maternity hospital in the UK. The Lindo Wing and The Kensington Wing are just that – private wings attached to NHS hospitals. Here we will spell out the key facilities that the hospitals have and the functions they perform.

Emergency Obstetric Operating Theatre and Theatre Team

A dedicated Emergency Obstetric Operating Theatre means that should the need for emergency surgery arise (for instance an emergency Caesarean Section) facilities are on-site and accessible for the procedure to commence.

The Lindo Wing and The Kensington Wing both have Emergency Operating Theatres available, not as part of the wings themselves, but in the NHS hospitals they are connected to and they prioritise patients according to clinical need. The Portland Hospital has its own private Emergency Obstetric Operating Theatre sited on the labour ward with a resident on-call theatre team and anaesthetist.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is an intensive care unit especially for seriously unwell or premature newborns.

Babies in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit require high levels of care and monitoring. Neonatal Intensive Care Units have specialist nursing staff, facilities and expert consultants.

Premature babies may require help with feeding, breathing and staying warm. The more premature they are, the more assistance they are likely to require. For example common medical problems that may be found in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit include:

  • Infections
  • Problems with breathing
  • Cardiac problems
  • Low weight at birth
  • Jaundice
  • Low blood sugar
  • Feeding problems

All three of the Private Maternity Centres we researched had Neonatal Intensive Care Units available. The Lindo Wing and The Kensington Wing are able to use the NICUs within the NHS hospitals they are attached to. The Portland Hospital has its own private NICU on-site.

Special Care Baby Unit

A Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) provides assistance to babies who are premature or unwell. Babies in SCBU require additional care but are less seriously ill than those in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Sometimes babies in SCBU will have been in NICU before being transferred to the Special Care Baby Unit as their condition improved. The level of care in SCBU is less intensive than that in NICU.

When researching the safety of private maternity hospitals, SCBUs were something we looked at. At The Lindo Wing and The Kensington Wing, SCBUs are available within the NHS hospitals the wings are attached to.

The fully-private Portland Hospital houses its own SCBU on-site.

At all three hospitals, parents can be with their babies, and at The Portland Hospital, guest rooms are available so that parents can sleep on-site.

Adult High Dependency Unit and Intensive Care Unit

It’s not only about Baby – Mum’s health is of the utmost importance too.

Sometimes a mother may suffer complications or become unwell after a difficult birth. An Adult High Dependency Unit, often located within or close to a labour ward, is for mothers who require closer care and observation than most – whether pre-labour, during labour, or after the birth. A High Dependency Unit will house special monitoring equipment for mother and child.

An Adult High Dependency Unit gives critical care for mothers with issues such as excessive bleeding of the womb or placenta, pre-eclampsia/high blood pressure, or those with pre-existing problems like kidney conditions or diabetes. A High Dependency Unit may also be used for multiple births (twins, etc.).
The Kensington Wing and The Lindo Wing provide access to the Adult High Dependency Units within the NHS hospitals they are connected to. The Portland Hospital has its own private Adult High Dependency Unit.

According to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the expected rate of temporary admission to an ICU in the UK is 2.5 per 1,000 deliveries – however the rate varies according to hospital. For example, The Portland Hospital saw no transfers to the ICU at all in 2012.

Staff Support
Reassurance about the safety of going private involves more than facilities – it also includes the level of training you can expect from the support staff. You need to know that there are plenty of great nurses and support staff on hand, so that should any problems occur, they can provide the necessary emergency assistance straight away.

Top quality staff support gives you reassurance and peace of mind, knowing that there are plenty of great nurses and staff on hand.

We had a good check and all three maternity centres in our study – The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, The Kensington Wing, and The Lindo Wing, – have staff trained in:

  • Basic to Advanced Life Support
  • Newborn Life Support
  • Advanced Paediatric Life Support

Having plenty of staff with these skills on hand on the hospital floor can help mums to feel more secure that help will be there when it matters most.

Obstetric Anaesthetist
A common fear for expectant mothers is the nightmare scenario of being caught short in the middle of horrendous labour pains.

While different kinds of staff can prescribe many forms of pain relief, if you require an epidural to aid you in your natural delivery, or more importantly if you require a caesarean section, the only professional who can administer it is an anaesthetist. With this in mind, many mums wishing to go private will look for somewhere with an Anaesthetist on site. You just never know how bad the pain could be on the day.

All three of our study hospitals have an Anaesthetist for epidurals available within the hospital. The Kensington Wing use their on call NHS anaesthetists and the Lindo Wing uses an anaesthetist on call from home. The Portland Hospital has a dedicated obstetric anaesthetist specifically on the labour ward at all times, ready to give epidurals and other pain relief advice.

Private Maternity Care and Planning – A Big Plus
In many ways, private maternity care allows for greater planning and thought around issues which could affect your safety and health. In private maternity facilities, all women are pre-booked with the hospital – they never simply ‘turn up at the door’. This means that any pre-existing medical conditions or possible complicating factors are known and thought through thoroughly by the on-site team prior to admission. They know what to expect, and so do you.

All this careful pre-planning minimises the risk of problems occurring on your birthing day.

A Better Staff to Patient Ratio – More monitoring for you and baby
What’s more, a longer stay in hospital and high midwife to patient ratio allows for close monitoring of you and baby. Any possible post-delivery complications are identified before discharge. Baby is monitored more closely, helping to establish better feeding.

Quite simply, the more attention that is given on and immediately after birthing day, the less likely you are to need to be readmitted to hospital. An excellent private maternity hospital can offer meticulous care and attention at the time when you need it the most.

Safety Statistics
Now for the figures. We spoke to different private maternity hospitals and these Safety Statistics include mortality rate as well as the number of women that are transferred to NHS facilities during childbirth.

Safety is of upmost importance in all of the hospitals we looked at, and it is vital to look at the statistics.

It must be said that safety statistics can never be the final word on a hospital – we have no way of knowing the individual medical histories and complex circumstances of different mothers-to-be that attend different hospitals. However, we also understand exactly why expectant mothers need to have the figures and try to get a good sense of the hospital.

Here are the Safety Statistics for last year (2012):

The Portland Hospital

  • Number of deliveries: 1,949
  • Number of babies born (including twins): 1,988
  • % of Caesarean section deliveries: 51%
  • % of vaginal deliveries: 49%
  • Transfer rate to ICU: In 2012, 0 mothers were transferred from the hospital post-delivery. In fact the Portland Hospital told us they only transfer women in extremely complex cases.
  • Maternal deaths: 0

The Lindo Wing
Unfortunately, The Lindo Wing declined to provide us with any safety statistics.

The Kensington at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital

  • Number of deliveries: 885
  • Number of babies born (including twins): 921
  • % of Caesarean section deliveries: 59%
  • % of vaginal deliveries: 41%
  • Transfer rate to ICU: The Kensington Wing did not respond to this question
  • Maternal deaths: 0

So there you have it – our helpful breakdown of safety at various private maternity hospitals. If you are interested in giving birth assisted by top health professionals in state of the art surroundings, contact:

The Portland Hospital:
Visit www.theportlandhospital.com
Call the Maternity Enquiry Line at Tel: 020 7390 6068
Email: Michaela Paul, Maternity Coordinator at info.portland@hcahealthcare.co.uk

The Lindo Wing:
Visit imperialprivatehealthcare.co.uk/lindo-maternity/
Call Maternity Coordinator at Tel: 020 3312 6224
Email: imperial.lindo.maternity@nhs.net

The Kensington Wing:
Visit www.thekensingtonwing.co.uk
Call Tel: 020 3315 8616

[For more articles, see our Useful Articles]