A western Sydney healthcare volunteer dismissed for speaking out about support given to women in labour says her sacking will make workers hesitant to blow the whistle.
Kristyn Begnell went public in July after women giving birth at Blacktown Hospital were separated from their partners after delivery and prevented from seeing them in postnatal wards.
Following the publicity, NSW Health last week changed its COVID-19 infection control manual to make carers and support people a separate category of hospital visitors.
A statewide directive also explicitly stated that visitors could be in birth units and postnatal wards.
NSW Health deputy secretary Nigel Lyons said hospitals were doing their best to reduce transmission but he was “equally concerned for the wellbeing of pregnant women and their families who risk long-lasting effects of separation from support during this crucial time in their lives”.
The same day Dr Lyons’ made his directive, Ms Begnell said the operator of Blacktown Hospital asked her to resign her position as a consumer representative.
She refused and was subsequently dismissed.
“I was disappointed about the way they handled it, but it wasn’t a surprise,” she said.
“They tried to make it all about me needing time to take care of my family … they tried to make out it was too much for me.
“It was an attempt to make me quiet.”
She first raised concerns about the maternity wards with her manager at Western Sydney Local Health District before trying the chief executive and the board separately, she said.
Ms Begnell said she was “genuinely trying” to prevent the hospital from getting negative attention and that it was disappointing it took going public to lead to change.
“The consumer partnership is so flawed,” she said.
“They kept telling me I breached NSW Health’s code of conduct. I explained to them that I shouldn’t be held to the same standard as an employee and that I had no other choice because I wasn’t being listened to.
“I said ‘I’m giving you invaluable feedback that you should be taking action on’.”
Healthcare workers, including those who spoke to Ms Begnell to raise concerns, would now be more hesitant to come forward, she said.
Some mothers about to give birth were still unclear about whether their partners or support persons would be able to remain with them throughout their hospital stay, Ms Begnell said.
“The mental health toll is, and has been, enormous – it’s caused more harm than good,” she said.
WSLHD declined to directly answer questions about Ms Begnell’s dismissal or Dr Lyons’ directive.
The district complies with the guidelines issued by NSW Health and the Clinical Excellence Commission, a spokeswoman said.
“A partner or support person is permitted to be with a woman in active labour at our hospitals and that same person is now permitted in the postnatal ward following birth and during the hospital stay,” she said.