Families impacted by alleged maternity failures at Nottingham University Hospitals have called for the chair of the review into the scandal-hit Shrewsbury hospital to lead a new inquiry into the incidents.
A group of more than 100 families and individuals have written to health secretary Sajid Javid asking for Donna Ockenden to chair a new independent inquiry into cases of alleged failures in maternity care.
Ms Ockenden last week delivered a damning report following the major review into the maternity scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust, which saw more than 200 baby deaths.
The new review proposed by families would replace the current NHS-led investigation, which was announced in July 2021 after The Independent and Channel 4 revealed millions had been paid out by the trust over 30 baby deaths and 46 incidents of babies left permanently brain-damaged.
The NHS review, dubbed an “independent thematic review”, is being led by local NHS commissioners and NHS England.
The families said they have no confidence in the current review process or those leading it, and feel they must speak out about their concerns now “if there is any chance of preventing more death and harm to babies, mothers, and families”.
They added the current NHS review is “moving with the viscosity of treacle”.
The letter to Mr Javid said: “Historically there have been reviews, nothing has changed. Coroners have publicly raised concerns, nothing has changed.
“If families are to be safeguarded, real and impactful intervention is required. The thematic review so far has been less than impactful, understaffed and moving with the viscosity of treacle. How can the public have faith in this process? The only answer is Donna Ockenden and a Public Inquiry.”
The NHS review has been running for six months and is due to publish a report later this year.
Families, supported by Switalskis Solicitors, said they have “no confidence” in the thematic review or the team leading it. They said they had raised “significant concern” over the independence of the current review, which was commissioned by former employees of the trust.
They also said not enough was being done to promote the review or reach out to families as it is only in the last two weeks that hundreds came forward.
The letter added: “This review currently has three clinical leads. The Ockenden Maternity Review employed 76 clinicians. The current team are unprepared and lack experienced leadership to handle a review of this magnitude.
“If we consider that in six months only 26 families have been spoken to, how can the public have faith that the other 361 families will not only be listened to, but purposeful conclusions made? It will either be rushed or dragged on, whereas Donna Ockenden has the team, and a public inquiry has definitive timelines. The affected families and general public deserve that certainty.”
According to a statement from the families, there have been 34 maternity investigations following adverse events at the trust since 2018. These include three maternal deaths, 22 babies who faced potential severe brain injury, four neonatal deaths and five stillbirths.
A previous investigation by watchdog the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has previously made 74 recommendations to the trust regarding improvements in maternity care.
The CQC previously rated maternity services at the trust “inadequate” in 2020 and according to reports in March 2022 issued a warning notice which raised concerns about an increase in stillbirths and midwives acting outside of their competence in relation to reviewing scans.
Senior Physiotherapist Sarah and Dr Jack Hawkins, who previously worked for NUH, are one of the families leading the call.
The couple blew the whistle over problems in maternity at the trust following the death of their daughter Harriet, who died on 17 April as a result of “miss managed labour.”
Harriet’s death was caused by delays in recognizing Sarah was in active labor – this went on for six days as she was repeatedly told by midwives not to attend hospital. When she was eventually admitted, an ultrasound revealed Harriet had already died.
There have been several incident investigations into Harriet’s death and a final review ultimately concluded her death was “almost certainly preventable” and the trust has accepted liability.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.