Fifth mother dies at ‘worst maternity unit in the country’ as sister blasts doctors for ‘delaying treatment’
A fifth mother has died at a hospital dubbed the worst maternity unit in the country. Violet Stephens, 35, died just days after the Care Quality Commission delivered another damning report on Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Essex. Last year the hospital had three maternal deaths which makes its death rate three times higher than the national average for maternity units.
Ms Stephens, a care worker, from Brentwood, Essex, was rushed to hospital at the beginning of April when she was 32 weeks pregnant.
She had raised blood pressure a warning sign that she might have the potentially fatal condition pre eclampsia. It was her third pregnancy and she had suffered from the condition at the same stage of her first pregnancy.
But staff delayed giving her a caesarean operation for four days and she died soon after surgery from HELLP Syndrome, an advanced form of pre-eclampsia.
Her son Christian survived and he is now being cared for by Violet’s sister, Kitty Mhango, a midwife who lives in Leicester.
Kitty, 53, blames the hospital for her sister’s death. ‘Why did they delay when they knew her medical history? If they had acted sooner she would have survived. It was an avoidable death. HELLP syndrome requires early intervention.’
She added: ‘It is simply appalling that the hospital didn’t take notice of her history and act accordingly. I am deeply shocked at the lack of care she received.’
The family of a fourth pregnant woman who died and whose baby was stillborn at Queen’s in January, want an inquiry.
Widower Usman Javed, from Ilford, East London, said the deaths of his wife Sareena Ali and their first child could have been prevented if hospital chiefs had responded to “failings” in the maternity unit.
Meanwhile Kitty said she had been unaware of the hospital’s previous dreadful record of maternity care at the hospital where maternal deaths were three times higher than the national average.
Barking Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen’s, is awaiting the results of a full external investigation into Mrs Stephens’ care. It was being carried out by an independent senior obstetrician and midwife. A spokesman said: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment further until we have the results of the external investigation.’
More on the British immigration chaos
The former official in charge of a “shambolic” immigration system earned around £1 million in the five years she presided over it, it emerged yesterday. Lin Homer was earning £208,000 when she stepped down as chief executive of the UK Border Agency last year. She also received bonuses including one of between £10,000 and £15,000 despite the department being subject to regular criticism.
One MP said it was a case of “stuffing the pockets” of civil servants and rewarding failure.
Damian Green, the immigration minister, yesterday said it would take “years” to sort out the “shambles” the Coalition inherited from the Labour government.
He also signalled that there has been a delay in finding a permanent replacement for Ms Homer because “it is one of the more difficult jobs” in Whitehall.
It comes a day after MPs said tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been granted an effective amnesty because of the blundering service. More than 160,000 people have been allowed to stay as part of an attempt to clear a backlog of 450,000 cases, first discovered in 2006, while up to another 75,000 may never be traced because of the time lapse.
The Home Affairs Select Committee said the scale of those missing was “indefensible” while the high number being allowed to stay was “in effect to an amnesty”.
Mr Green insisted there was no amnesty and that the overall grant rate for asylum had remained stable at around 40 per cent for the last six years. Asylum claims are at their lowest in 20 years, he added.
He said the Government “inherited a shambles”, adding: “The immigration system, which was completely chaotic, is getting better. “Inevitably, when you are turning around as big a problem as this it is going to take a few years, but we can see measurable progress in the first year of this Government.”
Keith Vaz, the chairman of select committee, said: “The problem with the UK Border Agency, which predates this government, is a lack of administrative control. “It is an administrative issue rather than a political problem and we would like to see it resolved so the government can meet the targets it has set out.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Green was also grilled on why there was still no new permanent chief executive of UKBA almost five months after Ms Homer, left. She left to become permanent secretary at the Department for Transport.
The minister said: “It is clearly, as everyone admits, one of the more difficult jobs in the public service and it is clearly essential that we get the right person for the job.”
But Mr Vaz said: “The minister has said the immigration system has been in chaos for years. “Yet the person in charge has been paid more than the Prime Minister and has just been promoted. “She and her colleagues have also been receiving bonuses. “They are stuffing these civil servants’ pockets with bonuses. It is rewarding failure rather than success.”
The committee’s report yesterday said the immigration department was “still not fit for purpose”, in reference to a phrase first used by John Reid, who was home secretary when the backlog was discovered.
It also criticised the agency for not carrying out checks on all employers sponsored to bring in migrant workers and failing properly to follow up intelligence on suspected illegal immigrants.
The report said: “The net result is that a very large number of people remain in the UK who either have no right to be here or who would have been removed had their cases been dealt with in a timely manner.”
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: “David Cameron has previously slapped down fellow Conservatives for daring to suggest an amnesty for illegal immigrants yet it appears this is exactly what is happening.
“In order to maintain an effective immigration system, those that have overstayed their visas and therefore have no right to legally be in the UK need to be removed, not covertly merged into society.
“The system is not working and with cuts to the UK Border Agency’s budget, it can only get worse.”
No IVF on the NHS if your husband smokes
This is ideology rather than science. Where is the evidence of harm?
Men whose partners want to get IVF treatment on the NHS are being made to take ‘breathalyser’ type tests to ensure they do not smoke either. It has been common practice for years for health authorities that pay the bills for NHS patients, to insist that women seeking IVF treatment are not smokers. There is clear evidence that smoking both reduces the chances of a successful implantation and harms the developing baby.
But now primary care trusts (PCTs) are raising the bar, despite there being limited evidence that smoking before conception leads to seriously damaged sperm.
They have started making the requirement this year, said Prof Simon Fishel, managing director of Care Fertility, Britain’s biggest private provider of IVF to NHS patients.
He said: “I can understand why the NHS is bringing in this policy, but what must be hard for couples is seeing the man in the street who smokes 50 fags a day, and has six kids.”
Male partners are either being mouth-swabbed for evidence of smoking or being asked to blow into a device that measure carbon monoxide (CO) content in exhaled air. It is so sensitive that it picks up CO from just an occasional cigarette. Women are being refused treatment until their partners get a completely clear ‘green’ signal.
A recent Japanese study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, has linked smoking in fathers during their partners’ pregnancies with earlier menopause in daughters.
But Prof Fishel said prising apart whether biological damage in children was due to passive smoking during childhood, or damage to sperm and egg DNA caused by parents smoking before conception, was almost impossible. He said the evidence was “not conclusive” that smoking’s effect on DNA was powerful enough to cause serious problems in children, although it was clear that smoking did cause potentially harmful ‘epigenetic’ changes in sperm and eggs.
NHS organisations now insisting on both parents being non-smokers include the East Midlands Specialist Commissioning Group, NHS Yorkshire and Humberside, and NHS South Staffordshire, said a spokesman for Care Fertility.
Susan Seenan, of Infertility Network UK, said: “If they are basing this on medical evidence, than I don’t think couples would have an argument with it. “But if they are doing it simply to ration treatment, then that would be wrong.”
Britain’s culture war on toffs and chavs
Today’s liberal smart set hates the posh and the poor, seeing both as blasts from a best-forgotten past
So who are the most put-upon, derided people in modern British society? Screenwriter Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, believes it is posh folk. He caused a ripple of controversy this week when he claimed that ‘poshism’, alleged discrimination against toffs, is rife in the twenty-first century. Hating posh blokes is the ‘last acceptable prejudice’, he said. Others have countered that in fact it’s the white working classes, sometimes sneeringly referred to as ‘chavs’, who bear the brunt of opinion-formers’ opprobrium. Polly Toynbee of the Guardian says ‘chav’ is ‘the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain’, an expression of ‘venomous class hatred’.
In fact, the most striking thing today is the extent to which both toffs and chavs have become objects of ridicule amongst the smart set. Mocking so-called toffs and sneering against so-called chavs are now the favoured pastimes of the political and media elites. The privately educated foxhunting brigade who cover themselves in Barbour might be a million metaphorical miles away from the young men and women who live on inner-city council estates and have a penchant for tracksuits and bling. But what both these sections of society share in common is an attachment to what we might call ‘Old England’, to traditional values, and that makes them immediately suspect in the eyes of an influential commentariat that fancies itself as pomo, uber-cosmopolitan and so over the past.
Of course it is crazy to claim, as Fellowes does, that posh people face actual discrimination. That’s as fictional as Downton Abbey. It remains pretty easy for well-educated, well-connected people to get highly prized jobs in politics and the media, as confirmed by the number of former Eton boys in the current government and the predominance of hereditary journalists in the media. But it is true that it is acceptable today, if not de rigueur, to look down (up?) one’s nose at those who were born into privilege. In a frightening flashback to the idea that people are defined by the circumstances of their birth, that who we are is determined by a mish-mash of pater’s sperm and how we were schooled, many commentators now expose a politician’s or celebrity’s privileged background as a way of calling into question their true motivations and presenting them as suspect.
So Labour Party activists and supporters who campaigned against the Tory candidate Edward Timpson in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election in 2008 vilified him as a ‘toff’, as if that were enough to rubbish his political beliefs. David Cameron’s government is frequently written off as an ‘extension of the Bullingdon Club’ – an exclusive dining club at Oxford University – as if a man’s student antics define him for the rest of his life. (God, I hope that isn’t true.) Having had a nanny, having attended Eton, having once worn a top hat and tails – all those things are now held up as instant indicators of an individual’s true and inescapable inner self. It is meant to sound radical – bash the rich! – but in truth it eerily echoes the equally fatalistic and hopefully outdated notion that being born poor makes you feckless or being born black makes you uncouth.
Fashionable toff-bashing, now widely indulged in the liberal media and by Labour Party hacks, likes to present itself as an edgy class war against unfair privilege and the alleged dominance of the Eton set over political life. In reality, it is a highly individuated campaign rather than a political battle, motivated more by the politics of envy and resentment for the rich than by anything resembling a principled position on wealth creation or distribution. Where class warriors of old not only attacked the wealthy but also put forward an alternative vision for how the world should be run, today’s farcical toff-haters simply lambast the dress sense, eating habits and old-fashioned attitudes of the pearl-wearing set. In the recent complaints about the ‘sharp-elbowed’ sons and daughters of toffs getting internships ahead of the sons and daughters of the middle classes, we can glimpse the personal bitterness that drives modern-day posh-bashing.
Yet the cultural elite can just as easily turn its intellectual guns away from toffs and on to ‘chavs’. Polly Tonybee’s column this week on the ‘class hate’ that fuels the use of that c-word was written in response to a tweet by Baronnes Hussein-Ece, a Lib Dem peer who sits on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which said: ‘Help. Trapped in a queue in chav land.’ Yet the Guardian is not in a good position to attack chav-bashing. Its writers have slated white working-class communities for being ‘paranoid, suspicious, mistrustful, misogynist and racist’, have described football fans as ‘knuckle-dragging cretins’, and have lamented the state of ‘ugly, thick white Britain’.
In the spat over whether toffs or chavs are most hated by the modern-day great and the good, some have sought to depict the demonisation of chavs as a sport played exclusively by poshos – by princes William and Harry, who have dressed up as chavs, or by newspapers like the Telegraph with their alleged ‘war on single mums’. In truth, those old-style, right-wing prejudices, particularly against single mothers, have far less cultural purchase today than they did in the past.
Now, attacks on the white working classes, on so-called chavs, are far more likely to come from liberal commentators or from the Labour left than from right-leaning snobs. From New Labour’s war on cheap booze and junk food to the Guardian’s attacks on the knuckle-dragging paranoiacs on council estates to the development of intrusive ‘early intervention’ policies aimed at preventing the children of the poor from turning into maniacs, it is clear that the idea that there are feral bits of Britain that need re-education or rescue is now propagated more enthusiastically by liberals than by conservatives.
In short, it is the same people who bash toffs who also attack chavs: what we might call the opinion-forming classes, the influential cultural elite. This section of society heaps disdain on both the man in the pub and the man in the country pile; both the chav with the dangerous dog and the toff with the hunting hounds; both the footie fan who waves the St George Cross and the posho who insists on saluting the Union flag.
They have a cultural revulsion for the values of both the privileged and the working classes, seeing both as old-fashioned, too nationalistic, and too attached to land and pride and beer and other things that are so 1910. So toffs are widely described as being ‘stuck in the past’ and the Guardian lays into the ‘social conservatism’ of white working-class communities. A cultural elite that fancies itself as being detached from tradition, which is embarrassed by the old imperial outlook, and which considers itself more European than British, snobbishly looks upon both toffs and chavs as blasts from a best-forgotten past. ‘If the past was so great, then why does all the pooled knowledge available to us from Britain’s social and economic history suggest that it was, in fact, shit?’, said the opening to a casually disdainful Guardian article on the need to ‘bury working-class conservatism’.
It is important to note that it is not a genuine progressive cosmopolitanism that drives the cultural elite’s disdain for the old workers and the old rulers of British society; it is not a real and meaningful desire to redefine what Britain stands for or what values it should embrace that motors their attack on the two great classes of old. Rather it is their own lack of conviction, their own dearth of any principled or positive vision for society, which makes them lash out against anyone who still seems to believe in something and who even waves flags (eurgh) to express that belief.
When Tony Blair declared war on ‘the forces of conservatism’ in 1999 (when, post-Kosovo but pre-Iraq, he was still the messiah of the chattering classes), he said his ‘forces of change… don’t respect tradition and don’t stop at national boundaries’. It was the Blair set’s inability to outline a new vision for Britain that led them to become increasingly intolerant of the old ones, leading to assaults both on foxhunting toffs and flag-waving football followers, all of whom were seen as ‘forces of conservatism’ by a cultural elite that is almost nihilistic in its lack of belief and its lack of attachment to a set of clear values.
In many ways, of course, the rise of toff-hatred and chav-attacks speaks to the very real, objective decline of two major classes: the old conservative ruling class and the powerful working class. As a result of some sweeping historic shifts over the past 20 years, the old-style ruling class has been robbed of its raison d’être and has seen its values derided and denigrated, while the working class has become sidelined, elbowed off the public stage by the decline of progressive left-wing politics and increasingly treated as a blob of people in need of help rather than as a class of people that can do things for itself.
And into the vacuum left by the demise of the old right and the old left, assuming political and intellectual influence almost by default, come the value-lite middle classes, the modern-day cultural elite, who are spectacularly intolerant of both the well-spoken class above them and the chippy class beneath them.