The following information has been put together for women who have contacted AIMS Ireland regarding accessing personal records (birth notes), making a complaint, or a query in regards to their maternity experience.
The following summary is for women who have requested information on how to access their birth notes.
Many women access their birth notes for a variety of reasons: as a keepsake, curiosity, for information etc. The Freedom of Information Officer (FOI Officer) at your maternity unit can answer your questions.
For women who are thinking of writing a complaint letter, AIMS Ireland would recommend you get a copy of your birth notes if you have not already done so. Many women feel that reading their notes gives them insight into their experience and also helps them to write a clear, factual letter.
You can apply for your birth notes through the Freedom of Information Officer or Patient Liaison Officer at your maternity unit. The notes are usually free of charge and will be delivered to you by registered post or a time will be arranged for you to collect them. You can ring the hospital and ask to be transferred to the Patient Liaison/FOI Officer for instruction or simply write a detailed letter expressing an interest in a copy of your birth notes.
In your letter you need to state that your request is for a copy of your personal medical records under the 1997 Freedom of Information Act. You do not need to specify the reason for which you are requesting your notes. In no instances should a reason for your request be looked for by any party. You need to provide enough information for the FOI Officer to identify that you are the person in which records are being sought.
If you used a private consultant it may help to include his/her name.
Alternatively, you may fill in a Freedom of Information Act form available here:
** NOTE: If you are requesting your notes to assist with a complaint, be sure to request a full copy of your records to include of handwritten notes (antenatal, labour, birth, postnatal), reports for scans, tests, procedures and consent forms.
Once your request is received, the FOI Officer will process your request. The FOI Officer will pull your chart and photocopy the information inside. This should include your antenatal, labour and birth, and postnatal records. It should also include any tests, procedures or scans. Once all the information is collected and photocopied, the FOI Officer will send them to you via registered post or arrange for their collection. As personal health records are legal documents, you are the only person who may sign for the notes. The notes should be with you in 2–6 weeks.
AIMS Ireland would be happy to provide you with contact information for the Freedom of Information Officer in your region or maternity unit.
If you would like someone to help you read your notes, AIMS Ireland would suggest you contact a health professional in your area e.g. a midwife or a GP.
A request for information can be denied based on the mental health or emotional well-being of the woman making the request. This is to be determined by the head of the hospital. However, if this is the case, the records may be released to a separate health professional on the woman’s behalf. Any circumstance in which request is denied should be explained in full to the woman making the request.
See here for HSE FAQs on Freedom of Information
See example of FOI information and form available on the National Maternity Hospital website here.
AIMS Ireland offers a confidential support service for women requiring assistance in making a complaint or sending a letter of recognition to a maternity unit. Please contact us at email@example.com any time.
You can also correspond directly with the maternity unit you attended. Contact the Hospital Complaints Officer or Patient Services Manager for more information or contact AIMS Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will find the contact person and necessary information for you.
If you are unhappy with any aspect of your maternity care you may decide to write a letter of complaint. Complaint letters are a way to highlight issues of concern from your experiences. Hospital management and carers (midwives, doctors) are supportive of complaint letters as they are often the only way that problem areas can be identified and addressed. It is very important that women write complaint letters so that improvements to services can be made. Also for women who had negative experiences, many find that writing a complaint letter gives them a sense of closure.
Women often ask what warrants a complaint letter; there is no specific answer to this question. Women write letters on a variety of issues which concern them; there is no issue which is too big or too small. Complaint letters may be in relation to issues which occurred during antenatal care (pregnancy), during labour, during the birth or during the postnatal period. Complaints can be made to highlight a general issue or to raise concerns on a specific policy. You may also raise concerns relating to a specific individual—their manner, the way they treated you or a procedure they may have performed.
AIMS Ireland will offer you support and suggestions to write a complaint letter if this is what you wish to do. Traditionally, AIMS Ireland asks women to compose a draft letter and will then help with suggestions and editing. The letter must come from you and be in your words in recollection of your experience. The more factual and structured the letter is, the more substance it will have.
Your complaint may be sent to the Master or General Manager of your maternity unit, the Director of Midwifery (DoM), Patient Services Manager or a Complaints Officer.
Some maternity units have their own forms available for making complaints. Please let AIMS Ireland know the unit you are contacting to see if this form is available. AIMS Ireland would also be happy to provide you with contact information for your maternity unit.
After making a complaint/query to your maternity unit you should receive notification of receipt of your letter. The maternity unit will then generally follow this process:
If you receive a reply in response to your letter and feel it needs further clarification, you may request a meeting or may alternatively send another letter highlighting your issues with their response.
If at any time you require research, information or support on issues pertaining to your complaint/query, please contact AIMS Ireland.
If you have been invited to attend a meeting to discuss your complaint, AIMS Ireland recommend that your birth partner/husband/family member goes along with you. Some women have found these meetings to bring on strong emotions and it is best to have someone there to support you. It may also feel less intimidating to have someone with you.
Finally, AIMS Ireland would again like to highlight how important your letter is to the maternity system. Hospitals can only change what they know; the more women communicate, the more likely improvements will be made. It is a difficult decision to make a complaint. Many women, AIMS Ireland representatives included, have commented on how difficult it can be to write and then send their complaint letters. You are not alone; we are here to support you in any way we can.
AIMS Ireland Support and Information Services: email@example.com
All complaints must follow the appropriate complaints procedure. This is:
1) A written complaint will be acknowledged within 5 working days of reciept
2) A complaints officer must look into your complaint within 30 working days from the date of acknowledgement.
3) If your complaint requires more than 30 working days to look into the issues you have highlighted, the complaint must be acknowledged within 30 working days and then an update must be provided every 20 working days thereafter until the complaint is resolved.
For more information on complaints procedures in Ireland, Citizens Information may be helpful.
You may visit the Citizens Information website here: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/health/health_service_agencies/making_a_complaint_about_the_health_service_executive.html
Contact the Health Service Executive (HSE)
You can also contact the HSE with ‘comments, compliments or complaints’
See the HSE website here for a variety of ways to contact them and what the process of involves: http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/yourhealthservice/
Alternatively, you may also make a complaint through the HSE “Your Service, Your Say” service. A brochure for the HSE service is available from AIMS Ireland. See also: http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/yourhealthservice/focus/ysys.html
Complaints which involves the individual practice of a midwife or nurse may be sent to the professional body of An Bord Altranais. You will need the individual’s name and the unit where they work. It is also helpful if you have the individual’s PIN (personal identification number).
Read more about the An Bord Altranais complaints process : http://www.nursingboard.ie/en/
Complaint to The Medical Council ( A complaint about a doctor, registrar, consultant)
Complaints which involve the individual practice of a doctor may be sent to the professional body of The Medical Council. You will need the individual’s name and the unit where they work.
Read more about The Medical Council’s complaints process here: http://www.medicalcouncil.ie/
Why not contact your local TD with your concerns or comments? They are elected not only by you but FOR you. Let them help by raising maternity issues at government level.
Find your local TDs here.
Requesting a Review
The following information is quoted directly from the HSE’s Complaints Policy Statement: http://hse.ie/eng/services/publications/corporate/Your_Service,_Your_Say_Consumer_Affairs/Policies/Text_Feedback_Policy/Archive/Section_One.html
HSE Internal Review
Stage 4: Independent Review
If you feel that you would benefit from speaking to a legal expert, AIMS Ireland can put you in touch with legal advisors.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Category: Advocating for yourself in the maternity services, Articles, Information, Pregnancy Tags: freedom of information, HSE, informed choice, informed consent, informed decision making, informed refusal, making a complaint, requesting medical notes, requesting your notes, self-advocacy, your service your say