What price would you put on a bit of peace and quiet after giving birth?
Well, according to Royal Stoke University Hospital, it'll cost you £95 a night. The hospital in Stoke-on-Trent is offering mums-to-be the chance to book a private en-suite room where they can recover from labour in privacy instead of slumming it in a bay on a small ward.
For the princely sum of £95 a night, new mums will be able to upgrade their NHS hospital experience as they bond with their baby with partners welcome to stay too (if they can stomach a night sleeping on a reclining chair).
I must say I have mixed feelings about the charge. I gave birth to my first child at the hospital - which was then known as the University Hospital of North Staffordshire - back in 2009. Back then it was simply luck of the draw where you ended up after delivery and I recovered in a small ward with simply a curtain pulled round my bed to spare any blushes.
Looking back, I would have preferred a private room. The ward was noisy, I was a nervous first-timer and even when my own little one was peacefully sleeping like an angel, I still couldn't sleep as every time another mum's baby stirred, my eyes flew open. Worse still, when it was my daughter screaming the place down, I remember feeling desperately worried that I was keeping everyone else awake as we took our first fumbling steps on our breastfeeding journey. I would have loved the chance for my husband to stay with us so we could bond as a new family of three.
So yes, I totally get why new mums would dig into their pockets and pay to guarantee a bit of privacy. But £95 a night???? For that price I'd be wanting a king-size bed and a full English breakfast. After asking around my friends, it seems quite a few hospitals now charge new parents for private rooms but I must confess the whole thing makes me feel uneasy.
We all know that giving birth is a totally different experience for those with money. I'm pretty sure the Lindo Wing where the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to George and Charlotte is a world away from any of the three maternity units I've stayed in. But the idea of splitting NHS units into first class and economy just feels wrong to me.
And where will hospitals end up drawing the line? Will it become like catching a budget flight where you're charged for a whole host of optional add-ons? Want to bring an extra birth partner with you? That'll be £20...your hospital bag is too large, you'll have to pay an excess baggage charge. Or even worse, perhaps they'll start selling official photographs of your labour in all its crowning glory like they do at theme parks.
And if you take the concept out of the maternity wing, it seems even more disturbing. A fast-track pass for A and E anyone?? The one thing I love about our NHS is that you can leave the chequebook at home. I know our hospitals need every penny they can get but charging NHS patients for private rooms feels a little bit like privatisation by stealth. I'd always thought (and hoped) that the decision on who should go into a private room was based on availability and need. I'd want the rooms to go to mums without their babies or those recovering from a difficult birth over someone who'd booked one using a credit card.
After the birth of my third child I was readmitted to Sheffield's Jessop Wing when my baby wouldn't feed and became dangerously dehydrated. I arrived tearful and traumatised, desperately sad to be leaving my older children again less than 48 hours after arriving home to a flurry of excited kisses and cuddles. Fortunately for me, I was given my own room and it didn't cost me a penny.
Being in a private room for those dark few days almost certainly saved my sanity. It meant I could have my children and husband with me without worrying about disturbing other patients. It meant I could sit pumping my milk for hours at a time without having to feel I should hide behind a curtain.
It meant I could sit and chat with a midwife at 4am when we were trying to get my baby to accept a cup feed without keeping anyone else awake. My littlest and I stayed for four nights in our ensuite room and thankfully no one presented me with a bill at checking out (sorry...discharge time).
Could I have afforded £380 for my stay? Certainly not and I'd like to think any other mum who finds herself in that position wouldn't have to.
This article was originally published on my personal blog
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