‘Bittersweet’ to see huge turnout to Nottingham maternity meeting

By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

Around 100 people with experiences of poor maternity care met in Nottingham for the first time to share their stories and call for a national public inquiry.

People from across the country attended the meeting at Lutterell Hall in West Bridgford on February 17.

Parents shared harrowing stories of babies and mothers who have died or been injured during care. Some families had never met others affected by poor care before.

Jack Hawkins, who has campaigned for safe maternity services with his wife Sarah since their daughter Harriet’s death in 2016, told the audience: “It’s bittersweet seeing so many people here.”

Donna Ockenden is leading the largest review in NHS history into cases in Nottingham including stillbirth, neonatal deaths, brain damage and harm to mothers. Around 1,800 families are expected to be involved in the process.

Nottinghamshire Police is also running a criminal investigation into failings at the Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital, called Operation Perth.

Jack and Sarah Hawkins

Maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH)  are rated ‘requires improvement’ by the healthcare watchdog.

NUH said improvements to maternity services were highlighted in its recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report.

Sarah McCrackle, of Bilborough, attended the meeting having never met other families.

Sarah McCrackle

Her son David Junior died in 2013. She said when she went into labour at home, she was told there were no available beds at Queen’s Medical Centre.

She said: “I went to hospital many hours later but they still said there weren’t any beds.

“We were left in antenatal for another three hours for a scan. Unfortunately when the scan was done, Junior had already passed.

“It felt very empowering to come here today. It has been a long time coming. I did it for Junior and for my kids now and the grief that they’ve had to go through.”

Felicity Benyon was left with lifelong injuries after giving birth to her second child at Queen’s Medical Centre.

Felicity Benyon

Ms Benyon was left with a permanent urostomy bag after her bladder was accidentally cut out during an emergency hysterectomy. She said policies and procedures weren’t followed during her care.

NUH has accepted liability in her case.

After the meeting Ms Benyon said: “For me, today was about getting to meet other families and making sure they don’t feel they’re on their own.

“We can help them on their journey to finding out what happened, making sure they’re part of the Ockenden review and getting the legal support they need.

“It’s heartbreaking to know that other people have had to go through similar things to you.”

Emily Barley’s daughter Beatrice died during labour at Barnsley NHS Trust in May 2022. Ms Barley said there were “basic failures in care” and she was not listened to by staff. Barnsley Hospital apologised for the mistakes made.

Emily Barley

Ms Barley said: “It’s been so emotional hearing the stories people have shared and how they’ve been treated so terribly in the aftermath.

“This is happening all over the country. It’s horrible to know that more families are suffering what I did.

“There isn’t an end to it when your baby dies, it goes on forever. It is devastating because your hope is that it won’t happen to anybody else, but it is.

“Frankly, this is the only thing I can get out of bed for. Babies need to stop dying. It keeps me up at night imagining this happening to other families.”

Ms Barley said a group of families have set up the Maternity Safety Alliance, which is campaigning for a national statuatory inquiry on maternity safety.

She said: “The current Government seem quite firmly opposed. We’re hopeful if there is a change in Government we will get a different view.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Mr Hawkins said: “It’s desperately sad but really helpful to see how many other people are involved.

“We don’t have the confidence yet that NUH has grasped just how serious this is in their maternity department.

“We’ve reached that conclusion because we have been contacted by families to whom this is still happening.”

Sarah Hawkins added: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking to hear other stories because I always think had they listened to us, who would not be in this room?

“Who would be out with their kid at the park? It’s soul destroying.”

Queen’s Medical Centre

Anthony May, Chief Executive at NUH, said he could see “great value” in the affected families meeting.

He said: “I am grateful to the families who have arranged the event. I hope those who attended were able to share their experiences, support each other, and learn about the current review of maternity services.

“If there are issues coming out of the event which we need to address, I would be very happy to receive feedback. I remain committed to a new relationship with families because I want to use their experiences to help us improve.

“Colleagues in our maternity services are focused on improvement. This was acknowledged in the latest Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection, which moved our overall rating from inadequate to requires improvement. In addition, a recent CQC survey showed some encouraging signs, particularly in the experience of labour and birth.”

He acknowledged “there is more work to do” and said the trust is supporting the independent review by Donna Ockenden.

A Barnsley Hospital spokesperson said: “We are deeply sorry for the loss of Beatrice. We met with Emily at the time to apologise, and remain 100% committed to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to learn from the mistakes we made.”

It added that Beatrice’s death was reported to the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch and the trust fully cooperated with their independent investigation and accept their findings and recommendations.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was “committed to ensuring all women receive safe and compassionate care from maternity services”.

It added: “We continue to support NHS England’s Three-Year Plan for Maternity and Neonatal Services, and we’re investing £165 million per year, rising to £186 million from April, to grow the maternity workforce and improve maternity and neonatal care.”

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