Showing posts tagged with: 'childbed fever'


Dear NHS, please wake up

Sun 16th Sep 2007 by Ben Palmer.

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Aarrggh. I could scream.

I heard a story at lunch today that made my skin crawl. A mother (a friend of a friend and I don't know her, so I won't use specifics) was unwell a couple of days after delivering a baby in a London hospital. Told that she had tendonitis in her foot, she was sent home.

Progressively worse, she took herself to A&E and demanded to be taken seriously as she couldn't possibly be feeling that ill just because of a foot complaint.

When humoured by the staff and given proper attention, she was then told that if she was any more unwell she would have been dead. She was treated in Intensive Care for two and a half weeks and told that it might be up to a year before she was back to full health.

What (as if you need to ask) was wrong? She was suffering from Puerperal Sepsis. Childbed Fever. The hospital were amazed - they 'didn't think it still happened'.

When will somebody, anybody, wake up and listen? Mothers' health should not be ignored like this. Mothers do still get Childbed Fever, and yes, some of them do die. Those that don't seem to live by the skin of their teeth. I have almost lost count of the number of stories that I have heard in the last few years and although most (but not all) of these stories have happy endings, nobody, let alone a mother after childbirth, should be getting so ill in the 21st century.

If I've heard of all these stories, why hasn't the NHS, and why are they not getting the picture. How many more Jessica's have to die before they will?

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Hard labour: The maternity service in crisis

Tue 11th Sep 2007 by Ben Palmer.

Hard labour: The maternity service in crisis in the Daily Mail

This is a shocking tale of maternity services in the NHS. It's a story of another mother given a rough ride. It's a miracle she's alive - this was a catalogue of disasters.

Why is a temperature in a mother always excused as something minor instead of being read as the sign of an infection as it once was?

That's not to mention her detached placenta, her baby's distress and increased heart rate, the delayed pain relief and emergency caesarian.

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Why Mothers Die when nobody's Saving Mothers' Lives

Mon 13th Aug 2007 by Ben Palmer.

The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH) publishes triennial reports reviewing all cases of maternal death. The most recently published report, 'Why Mothers Die' is for the period 2000-2002, and I have often quoted (both in these pages and to the press) the statistics it found and also its recommendations, few of which seem to be taken up, as they are repeated report after report in alarmingly consistent language.

The next report, for 2003-2005, is now to be called "Saving Mothers' Lives", as I have just learned from CEMACH's updated website, and it will be published this December.

This sounds to me like spin. The report, by it's very nature, highlights the cases of mothers who have died, not the ones who have had trouble free experiences, or even 'near misses'. If they do plan to discuss cases where the NHS has saved an ill mother, I could let them know of many horrendous near miss stories that have filtered through to me, but I suspect that - whatever the name - it will be the same report on the same causes of the deaths of the mothers that weren't saved.

If this Department of Health sponsored report wants to pat its master on the back, it should do so elsewhere. Jessica's case will (confidentially of course) be included in the statistics, reviews and summaries, and I don't for a moment believe that she will be alone in its 'Genital tract sepsis' pages.

In fact, I highly suspect that there won't be much of an improvement on previous triennia, but I'd love to be wrong. The bottom line, though is that what we and the NHS need to know is Why Mothers Die and how to stop them dying.

Whatever the findings, please let them be acted on this time.

Reminder: the petition closes in mid-October, so there's still time to help it make a difference in advance of December's report.

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Isabella in the 21st Century

Wed 18th Jul 2007 by Ben Palmer.

mrsbeeton2.jpgApparently, Mrs Beeton died of childbed fever. I had no idea that she had, but then so many did in her time. I just found another blogger who survived it.

Thank you for your support,

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Doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen's hands are clean.

Fri 22nd Jun 2007 by Ben Palmer.

I've just been, as I sometimes do, trawling the Internet for stories, comment and opinion on puerperal sepsis with the help of my friend. It really bothers me that there is so much opinion, comment and belief that childbed fever/puerperal fever/puerperal sepsis (call it what you will) is still caused by lack of hygiene and of handwashing.

Yes, if a mother has an internal examination by someone who has been performing autopsies without washing their hands in chlorinated lime, they're in trouble. What Ignaz Semmelwies discovered was the cause of the spread, in epidemic proportions, of sepsis.

Group A Streptococcus is, as far as I'm aware, the biggest puerperal sepsis causing bacterium. It is also naturally occuring on and within many of us quite harmlessly. The attitude that handwashing, sterile gloves and the passing of centuries has rid us of the original problem is at the heart of Jessica's problem.

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Praying Mantra

Mon 11th Jun 2007 by Ben Palmer.

I had two emails of real support last week. One was from a Delivery Suite sister who is teaching on a midwifery study day this week and the other from a student midwife in her final year.

Both expressed total disbelief and horror at the lack of care and insight that led to Jessica's death and both said that knowing of Jessica's story and my views on the government's response would help them make midwifery a safer place for mothers.

I was also thanked, in no uncertain terms and not for the first time, for telling Jessica's story so publicly, which is particularly reassuring. As I'm not a naturally outgoing person and am usually rather more privacy seeking, telling her story over and over again makes me feel a bit over exposed.

However, my mantra is still, "If, by retelling her story, I prompt one exhausted midwife or hard-pressed health visitor to look down at a sick new mum and think 'hang on, I wonder if this is septicaemia', then it will be worth it."

I'm still mulling over the suggestion that I 'guest lecture' to student midwives - maybe I would if directly asked to.

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It could be you

Fri 18th May 2007 by Ben Palmer.

“Is anybody listening?” I sometimes wonder. Do people think I'm just a sad old widower having a rant?

Yes, I've ranted to myself and to my friends in the past, but I've come through that. I know what childbed fever means, and I know the ecstatic highs of birth followed post haste by the devastation of death. I know the roller coaster of fear, anger, despair, self doubt and guilt that follows it, and I know the utter waste and needlessness of loss of life in this way, but am I not explaining it?

The NHS machine has treated Jessica's death as a statistic, collateral damage maybe, but has it learned? Have we as parents learned?

There really is no reason at all for women to die from infection after childbirth. It can stop and I hope it will stop, but first we have to accept that it is happening. Jessica's story is not just a sad tale worth a moment's attention and maybe a brief tear, it is an opportunity to reflect and to drag ourselves out of the dark ages.

Universally, the reaction to her death has been the same, whether in her best friends, a doctor or an internet-using car builder, but that isn't enough; we actually have to do something in the face of our doubts that anything can change.

If the end of childbed fever meant years of expensive research, new wonder drugs and hi-tech equipment I could understand the 'nothing will change' mentality, but none of that is needed. The research was done years ago by Ignaz Semmelweis, the drugs needed are ordinary antibiotics, and the hi-tech equipment? A thermometer. The only difference between his time and now are the hygiene standards that luckily prevent the epidemics of old. Otherwise it's still exactly the same old disease.

So, know that childbed fever is still real, believe that it doesn't have to be, and understand that yes – it could happen to you.

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One’s only a number

Wed 16th May 2007 by Ben Palmer.

I wrote to my MP a while back, and she tabled a written question in Parliament, addressed to the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the death rate per million maternities from puerperal sepsis and other forms of septicaemia was in each year since 1999-2000; and if she will make a statement.”

The answer came from Ivan Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Dept of Health.

“Deaths from puerperal sepsis are very rare. The Department-sponsored confidential enquiry into maternal deaths 'Why Mothers Die' report for 2000-02 only identified five women who died of puerperal sepsis in the United Kingdom for the three years 2000 to 2002. This gives a maternal death rate of 2.5 per million maternities. The next report is due to be published later this year and will contain the figures for the three year period 2003-05.”

Well: if you discount the eight further deaths from sepsis before term or after caesarian, yes it's five. Wait, he didn't say that, he said “only...five women who died.” Oh silly me, getting all worked up about dead mothers – it's OK really after all, it's only five.

If you look at the years since 1984 - the last time no deaths from sepsis were recorded - 30 women have died from this easily treatable illness. If you look at pre-term and post-caesarians as well, add another 59.

But it doesn't matter, does it Mr Lewis? It's only 89 families without a mother; don't trouble Patsy with it, because each family has only lost one mother, and any statistician will say that it doesn't get much better than that.

The full answer to the original question, according to 'Why Mothers Die?', for the period 2000-02 is 13 deaths making a rate of 6.5 per million maternities.

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Cloud watching

Mon 14th May 2007 by Ben Palmer.

So; the beds are made and the press release is finished. Thanks to a very kind man, David Standard, who's Head of Media Relations at Irwin Mitchell, my weekend draft was honed and finalised, and is now on its way out to journalists with a maternity/healthcare interest.

It's been a really encouraging day for the campaign, I've received another slew of messages of support, and one very kind offer of a donation which I've put on hold for the time being. Mental note to self: investigate charitable status and set up a bank account.

As I told the individual concerned, what Jessica's trust really needs is wider awareness and more signatures. Thanks to the Internet, running costs are still minuscule, even if man hours spent is escalating. It probably won't stay that way, so must watch own pocket.

For now I really need you to sign and let all of your friends and contacts know about the website and petition so that they can sign too.

What I hope is that people learn to look out for the tell-tale signs of childbed fever themselves, before it is too late, in the same way that parents are told to look for the signs of meningitis in their babies.

There is no need for anyone to die of this horrific and easily treatable illness. If I can help to save lives by telling Jessica's story, then our very dark cloud may have a silver lining after all.

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What is childbed fever?

Childbed fever is an infection of the womb in new mothers which can lead to septicaemia. If left untreated infection will cause organ failure and death - even in young, fit mothers.
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What are the symptoms? »
Childbed fever: the facts »

What's the aim?

We would like every parent and every midwife and doctor to know that childbed fever is still a very real threat to a mother's life.
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Can I help? »

Who is Jessica?

Jessica Palmer was a Mum. She died in June 2004, at 34 years old, of childbed fever caused by Group A streptococcus.
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This website contains general information about childbed fever. The information is not complete or comprehensive. You should not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about childbed fever (or any other medical condition) you should consult your doctor or other healthcare provider; and if you think you may be suffering from childbed fever (or any other medical condition) you should seek immediately medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.
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