Late shifts and long hours don’t say ‘antenatal care’ to me

Pregnancy is not an illness, but it can be an exhausting time for NHS staff, says Jane Bates

Pregnancy is not an illness, but it can be an exhausting experience for NHS staff, says Jane Bates

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My nursing instincts took over. I told her to go home to bed and take some time off work, but she said she couldn’t.

I don’t usually tell doctors what to do, but I was so concerned, I just couldn’t help myself. 

She was in her third trimester of pregnancy, at risk of serious complications, visibly exhausted, with a toddler at home disrupting her sleep – yet expected to work the usual punishing long hours and be ready to rush off to theatre and perform emergency surgery at the drop of a hat. 

Nothing trivial about these complaints

I’ve heard it said many times that pregnancy is not an illness, which of course it is not. But shouldn’t expectant mothers on the NHS front line at least be allowed some slack? 

Few people sail through those 40 weeks unaffected by excessive tiredness and so-called ‘minor’ complications, such as backache and haemorrhoids – and there is nothing trivial about piles.

This long hot summer, when walking onto a hospital ward has been like stepping into a furnace, is almost intolerable for a woman carrying a child.

A friend’s daughter, now at 30-plus weeks, is being made to work 12-hour night shifts in a hectic inner-city emergency department, with all the violence and the stress. Is that right? No.

Is this any way to treat NHS staff?

For pity’s sake, why should women put up with this? Okay, pregnancy is not an illness. Neither is being young or being old, but there are times in our lives when we are especially vulnerable, and this is one of them. 

The NHS bangs on about the importance of antenatal care and so it should, but it conveniently forgets that its own staff are human, too.

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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