Probe of maternity failings plea to hear from families

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The senior midwife leading a review into failings by Nottingham’s maternity services has promised to listen to “every voice that wants to be heard” as part of the investigation.

Donna Ockenden has urged families to get in touch after only a quarter replied to letters sent out by Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust.

More than 900 families had spoken to them, but she revealed to the Express that those living in “deprivation and difficulty”, as well as those for whom English is a second language, have been “reluctant” to speak up about their experiences.

Ms Ockenden, who led a previous review into Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, said: “To date, the Trust has identified over 1,400 families that may fall within our terms of reference and at this stage, we have had over 900 families contact us.”

“What we are in the process of doing is replying to and screening those families to find out exactly what happened to them, their babies, or their loved one at the hands of Nottingham’s maternity services.”

“The review is very large scale, and I can confidently say that, but we have seen that people who are living in deprivation and difficulty are less likely to come forward.”

“We know that if English is a second language for women, they are less likely to feel confident in speaking to us about their experiences, which is why we are trying to make it as simple as possible to come forward, like recording short videos in all different languages to reach the entire population in Nottingham.”

So far, 1203 families have contacted the review team directly and to date, 623 of these have given consent to join it.

About 1,400 separate letters from NUH NHS Trust, where maternity units are rated “inadequate”, have gone to families who experienced stillbirth neonatal deaths, brain damage to the baby or harm to mothers.

The letters included correspondence from NUH chief executive Anthony May and Ms Ockenden, who explained how families could contact the review.

But Ms Ockenden said there had been just 342 responses to the letters, with 11 families who have said they did not wish to be part of the review.

Ms Ockenden added: “We are intending that every voice that wants to be heard as part of this independent review will be heard, which is why we’re working with all kinds of local community groups.”

She has urged more families to come forward, with the appeal available in Urdu and Punjabi, aimed at Nottingham’s Sikh community.

Harvir Kaur, from charity Sikh Community and Youth Services, said: “It’s very important our community takes part in this review, to voice their experiences and opinions.”

The team have also been working with the Nottingham Muslim Women’s Network and grassroots organisation Support Me, which supports women for whom English is a second language.

Ms Ockenden, who qualified as a midwife in 1991, previously led a similar review into the deaths of babies and mothers at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, with the damning report published in March 2022.

Catastrophic failures at the Shropshire NHS Trust led to the deaths of more than 200 babies, nine mothers and left other infants with life-changing injuries, the review found.

The Nottingham review, which is expected to come to an end in Spring 2024, is encompassing all aspects of maternity care across the Trust.

She added: “It is our aim that what we leave behind is a safer and better-quality maternity service for everyone.”

“Please come forward because every story and every account is really important. If you come forward, you will always be treated with kindness and respect. And if you come forward, you can have as little or as much involvement with the review as you want.”

“Family voices are absolutely central to everything we do. They are the thread that will run through this review from the very beginning to the very end, which is the publication of the report, and beyond.”

“Without the families, and without the families who campaigned for this review to be set up, there would be no review, and it is for them and in response to what happened to them, and for the families of the future, to ensure better and safer maternity care in Nottinghamshire.”

The review will look at clinical reviews, local and national care guidelines, testimonies of staff and patients and results of internal inquiries and investigations previously carried out by the Trust.

But she said she did not want expectant mothers to worry that their child was at risk and said women should always raise concerns with midwives and other medical professionals, pledging that any learning would be released on an ongoing basis.

Michelle Rhodes, Chief Nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, “sincerely apologised” for the pain and grief caused due to failings in the maternity care they provided.

She said: “We look forward to working with Donna Ockenden and her team from next week to help with the vital work of improving maternity services for mothers and families in Nottingham.”

The NUH trust is currently rated as requiring improvement by the Care Quality Commission after its latest inspection in 2021.

The QMC was given the same rating last May, but its maternity unit was rated as inadequate, the lowest rating available.

All families whose experience falls into one or more of the five categories – terms and intrapartum stillbirths, neonatal deaths from 24 weeks gestation that occur up to 28 days of life, babies diagnosed with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, maternal death up to 42 days post-partum, or severe maternal harm, to get in touch with the review team.

They can be contacted via email at [email protected].

Ms Ockenden said she and her team are keen to hear from everyone and urged affected families, even if their experience falls outside of these five categories, to get in touch.

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