'No room': mother with high risk pregnancy sent packing during labour
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'No room': mother with high risk pregnancy sent packing during labour

Going through a high risk pregnancy, Claire Hooker never expected to have to fight just to be in hospital for the last half hour of her labour.

Mrs Hooker, who lives an hour away from Canberra Hospital at Captains Flat, was due to give birth to her ninth child and had previous complicated births.

Captains Flat mum Claire Hooker and six month old son Michael speaks about her botched childbirth experience at the Canberra Hospital.

Captains Flat mum Claire Hooker and six month old son Michael speaks about her botched childbirth experience at the Canberra Hospital.Credit:Karleen Minney

Because of this, she was told by clinicians throughout her pregnancy how important it was to get to the hospital at the first signs of contractions.

But after approaching the hospital at different stages of labour over an 18-hour period, she said she was only given a bed less than 40 minutes before the birth of her son Michael.

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And despite her son being taken to the NICU where he stayed for a week, she was rushed out within 10 hours of the birth and not able to stay overnight with her son.

Mrs Hooker's story comes as the government said it was in talks about a new approach to maternity services after Centenary Hospital staff wrote a scathing anonymous letter to Minister Meegan Fitzharris in April.

The letter alleged women were being admitted too late and discharged too early, with mothers and babies' lives put at risk by overcrowding, understaffing and mismanagement.

Mrs Hooker's experience has left her shaken and traumatised, and she was worried about ever having to go back to Canberra Hospital.

She could not fault the care of the midwives while she was being treated, but said pressure on staff to get mothers in and out quickly affected all decisions.

She issued a formal complaint about her experience and says she has been given verbal apologies and told policies have changed since her birth.

He was told, 'We're too busy at the moment, if you come over you might just have to sit in the tea room like everybody else'.

Claire Hooker

A spokeswoman for ACT Health said no admission polices had changed since Mrs Hooker's experience.

She did not answer whether it was appropriate for Mrs Hooker to have been admitted so late, but said all decisions are based on clinical assessment upon presentation.

Mrs Hooker arrived at Canberra Hospital in the early hours of February 14 and upon evaluation was told to go home and rest, and return when the labour progressed.

With a more than two hour return trip to get home, she and her husband decided to stay in the area, killing time at a local shopping centre.

She returned to the hospital hours later when her signs of labour intensified but was again told to leave and rest.

Distressed and in tears, Mrs Hooker said she was eventually offered a spot at the residency accommodation across the road for a fee of $60, which had no airconditioning and a shared bathroom.

When Mrs Hooker's labour appeared to progress further, her husband rang the hospital saying she was stressed and in pain.

"He was told, 'We're too busy at the moment, there are no beds, if you come over you might just have to sit in the tea room like everybody else'," she said.

Worried about the prospect of giving birth in the residency, with very regular contractions, they returned to the hospital tea room.

"By that point I couldn't cope with the pain and there's me screaming in front of all these people," Mrs Hooker said.

After more waiting, she was finally told a bed was free and within about half an hour, Michael was born.

"I think for the two hours before, when they were telling me not to come in I was almost fully dilated," she said.

"If we kept listening to them, my husband would have been delivering the baby.

"Every time I would go to my appointments ... I was told as soon as I get any contractions to go straight to the hospital because I was high risk, had previously haemorrhaged, had eight previous labours and lived so far away.

"None of that seemed to matter.

"I birthed all my other children at Canberra Hospital ... things have definitely got worse in the last few years.

"They need more beds, they need more staff and I think they need to listen to patients and their families a lot more and be a little more understanding."

Opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said Mrs Hooker's gruelling birthing story was not isolated.

"I have seen no evidence that the situation has turned around since February," she said.

“The ongoing issues of bed block, chronic staff shortages and broken channels of communication are symptoms of poor leadership.

“Right now, this lands squarely at the feet of the Health Minister."

The ACT Health spokeswoman did not address Mrs Hooker's case citing privacy reasons but said it was not unusual for hospitals to send women home and to admit them later when at an appropriate stage of labour.

"We endeavour to work with patients to address their concerns and reflect on our practice," she said.

"If patients are not happy with our response, they can seek advice from the Health Services Commission."

Daniella White is a reporter for The Canberra Times with a special focus on health issues

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