There is a “constant expectation” that women’s health services and care can be “done on the cheap”, an MP has said in the wake of the review into Shropshire’s maternity scandal.
Alicia Kearns, who told the House of Commons she was denied a Caesarean section until her husband noticed their unborn son’s heart rate had plummeted to non-existent, said NHS bureaucracies are “inherently and systematically sexist”.
The Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton was speaking after the publication of the Ockenden Report – the independent review of maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.
The review found that 201 babies and nine mothers could have or would have survived if the NHS trust had provided better care.
Ms Kearns told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “The anger and the heartbreak that I have felt, and clearly you have felt, and so many of us have felt, I have to say that, as an MP, over the last two-and-a-half years I have sadly had to conclude that NHS bureaucracies are inherently and systematically sexist.
“There is a constant expectation that women’s services and care can be done on the cheap, or that because women have given birth for generations and generations they don’t deserve the support they need.”
Ms Kearns said her mother heard her speak in Parliament this week, and recalled that, when she was giving birth to Ms Kearns’ brother, she had asked for an epidural “because she’d been in labour for so many days and in so much pain”.
Ms Kearns told the programme: “She remembers being screamed at by the consultant and told ‘You think you’re special, you’re not special, women do this every day’.
“Again, I shared my own experience of having a C-section. I ended up being taken to the operating theatre twice because they weren’t willing to give me the C-section that I needed when I’d been in labour for 36 hours and my son had already almost died once, because of this obsession with stats and low C-section rates, and also this idea that there is a normal birth.
“There is no such thing as the births that we see in movies. Some women have amazing birth stories but these should not be expected of all women.
“I think we have a way to go but I think anyone who’s watching this who is about to go into labour – know that our hospitals are safe, but you need to know that you have every right to challenge the system and to say at any point ‘Wait, no, why? What are the alternatives and why are you doing this?’
“It is your body and you have a right to challenge and demand better and demand what you need to keep you safe.”
Asked what the Government can do to make the situation better and also less sexist, Ms Kearns said Health Secretary Sajid Javid is “exactly the man to deal with this”, adding that he “cares deeply about fighting for women’s rights, he cares deeply about families and supporting them”.
She said: “And I believe, truly, that if there is a health secretary that will fight for it, it is Sajid.
“And he will make sure that women’s voices are listened to and he has committed to looking around the country to make sure that we don’t see something like this again.”