Justice for Becky Reed

Yesterday I went along to a picnic in support of a healthcare professional facing charges from her regulatory body (and I took some cameras along).

I will confess that the last three years have been an education. Not just the joy (and tribulations) of becoming a parent but also having some of your strongest beliefs around healthcare challenged. I guess I knew that the NHS in London wasn’t necessarily like it was where I grew up (sadly, I’m not sure it is there either now) but the whole experience of my partner receiving extremely poor care when our son was born made me look again at my own (and my family’s) experiences of healthcare in the past and present.

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Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of excellent people working as nurses, doctors, midwives and other healthcare profesionals in London and elsewhere in the country. However, there are a lot of people who shouldn’t be involved in healthcare either, with zero compassion or empathy. Suffice it to say that I’m (much) more skeptical about modern healthcare than I was. We may have moved beyond leeches and bleeding patients, but there are some areas of care where it feels like the process is still stuck in the 18th century. In other cases, good practice does exist but is being crushed by a combination of guidelines based on litigation risk and insurance requirements.

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Which brings me to the case of Becky Reed and the Albany Practice. I had got to know about this from my partner, who came across the story in the course of our own odyssey to make sense of what had happened at our son’s birth.

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The Albany Midwifery Practice ran from 1997-2009 in South London and was a community midwifery practice attached to King’s College Hospital. The practice had impressive statistics and achieved excellent outcomes compared to London and national averages. The practice was evaluated several times with excellent results. Critically, the Albany midwives offered continuity of care and choice of place of birth to the women in their care. Becky Reed was a midwife who had operated at the practice from its opening to the time of its closure. It’s worth noting that Becky is an experienced midwife and is co-editor of an academic journal.

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Following an incident in September 2009, King’s suspended Becky from duty, even though representatives of King’s later explained that they had ‘no concerns in relation to individual midwives’. In December 2009, King’s Healthcare Trust closed the Albany Practice citing ‘safety reasons’, based on inaccurate data and statistics that have been challenged by several experts.

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In 2010 Becky was referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) by the Head of Midwifery at King’s. Following an interim order hearing Becky was required to complete 450 hours of supervised practice by the NMC. In 2011, subsequent to completing the supervised practice, a further hearing deemed Becky fit to practise. However, in 2012 Becky was sent draft charges in relation to some of the same cases which had occasioned the original hearings resulting in the supervised practice order. As a lawyer, that raised my eyebrows somewhat. The basis of the charges was an alleged failure to follow rules or guidelines. As a professional myself I know that charges of that nature are easy to make – at some points a professional will have to depart from performing his or her role by numbers.

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As has been stated elsewhere, there is no doubt that midwifery needs a strong regulator that will look to protect women from midwives who are dangerous and negligent. Unfortunately, the NMC, which was described by its own regulator as “failing at every level”, is far from that. I know that myself from their treatment of the complaint my partner made. Unfortunately, Becky Reed is not the only midwife who focused on woman-centred care to face investigation and charges from the NMC. My own impression is of an organisation that will defend box tickers with no empathy (who are borderline or actually abusive) to the hilt but that cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to innovative and caring practitioners who achieve excellent results.

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Yesterday, finally, in a much delayed hearing, the NMC offered no evidence and Becky was cleared to continue to practise as a midwife. Becky herself described the investigation and related proceedings as feeling like a “witch-hunt” in a comment to The Times. Supporters gathered yesterday lunchtime for a picnic at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and I went along with my partner and son to offer our support prior to the announcement of the verdict. Supporters later went to the NMC for the hearing (unfortunately I had to head back to work, but my partner and son went along). It was heartening to see how many people felt strongly about the issue and the failings of the NMC. In any event I’m glad that Becky can now get on with her life and her career.

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A few quick observations about the photography as I know that’s why a lot of readers read posts like this and last week’s on UNITE’s Giant Rat protest… I had intended to take my Nikon D800E along but realised that it wasn’t really practicable to bring along as I had a meeting in Canary Wharf in the afternoon. That meant I was inclined to take my Fuji X cameras with me. While the X-Pro1 isn’t so small, it is relatively light and both the X-E1 and X100S are small. All give great (almost full frame quality) results (if not quite having the same dynamic range as the most modern full frame sensors) from their APS-C X-trans sensors.

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From recent experience I know it’s good to have both a 35mm equivalent and a 50mm equivalent lens available for a group event like this. Zooms, even constant aperture ones, are a bit of a pain and frankly kill my ability to come up with interesting pictures – fixed lenses give me much more creativity and also give higher image quality too. Given the size constraints and a desire not to use a camera with a bolt on viewfinder I went for the Fujifilm X-E1 with 32mm Zeiss Touit (50mm FF equivalent) mounted and the X100S with its 23mm (35mm FF equivalent) fixed prime lens. Stopped down to F4 both lenses are very sharp and the results are very pleasing. Fuji know how to get great skin tones from their cameras. Again, I was struck by how much the results reminded me of the output from my Contax G2.

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All of this was obviously too much for our son, who had lots of fun rampaging through the picnic and everywhere else in Lincoln’s Inn Fields… Given the number of times he wanted to “pess de busson” on my camera I think he was the more prolific photographer yesterday!

Taken with my X-E1 and X100S

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