Labour will be ‘guided’ by Nottingham maternity review in deciding if public inquiry needed

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting in King's Mill Hospital on April 8 2024
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting in King's Mill Hospital on April 8 2024
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

Labour’s shadow health secretary says the party will be “guided by” Nottingham’s ongoing maternity review in deciding whether a long-called for public inquiry is needed.

Experienced midwife Donna Ockenden is currently running what is thought to be the largest review into maternity services in NHS history in Nottingham, involving the cases of more than 1,800 families.

Nottinghamshire Police will also be setting up a criminal investigation into Nottingham maternity services, called Operation Perth, beginning Spring 2024.

The CQC says maternity units across England have the overall poorest standards of any hospital service, with two-thirds of them not as safe as they should be.

Families and campaign groups, including the Maternity Safety Alliance, have long been calling for a statutory public inquiry.

In March, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Con) declined the opportunity to commit to a public inquiry into maternity services while on a visit to the East Midlands.

The same question was posed to the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting on a visit to King’s Mill Hospital in Mansfield on Monday, April 8.

They had been visiting to discuss NHS reforms ahead of the upcoming General Election.

Mr Streeting told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There are definitely national lessons to be learned out of what has happened in Nottingham.

“Donna Ockenden and actually what some incredibly courageous whistle-blowers have uncovered is incredibly serious.

“What terrifies me is I think many of the lessons that Donna Ockenden has already identified apply right across the NHS.

“Labour has already committed, as part of the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history, to train up more midwives which is part of the problem – but a lot of these other issues about culture, about listening to whistle-blowers, listening to parents particularly new mums, there are lots of lessons to be learned.

“I would be very much guided by Donna Ockenden on this.

“I trust her, I trust her advice. I want to see the Government move faster at implementing her recommendations and I think the steer we are getting is we need to implement the recommendations that have already been made before looking at whether a wider public inquiry is needed, which can actually take longer.”

Jack Hawkins has been campaigning for safe maternity services alongside his wife, Sarah, since their daughter Harriet’s death at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust in 2016. If she had survived, Harriet would be about to celebrate her eighth birthday on April 17.

Mr Hawkins says had a public inquiry began when they first raised their concerns, it could have already concluded, saving money and lives.

Mr Hawkins said he was “delighted” Mr Streeting had shown a real understanding of the issues.

Jack and Sarah Hawkins

“For too long it has always been easy to just talk about staffing, and this is not a staffing issue,” he said. “This is, as he says, a wider issue including culture.

“We are struck by the number of reviews in maternity services and yet we keep on seeing the same scandals.

“We have spent a lot of time thinking about how we change this, we have spent a lot of time with other families around the country in how we change this, and we believe a statutory public inquiry is the only way.

“A statutory inquiry sets out to answer three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? Who is responsible?

“I think we know the answer to the first question reasonably well but we don’t know the answers to questions two and three.

“One of the things we are struck by is the complete lack of accountability for when there has been serious harm caused by negligence and neglect. Why is that?

“We need to understand and the only way to do that is to have people under oath giving evidence.

“We are not asking for a public inquiry because we have just heard about it. We have researched, we have looked at all the ways to change maternity care. We are not stupid and a statutory public inquiry is the only mechanism we have that will do this.”

Anthony May, the chief executive of Nottingham University Hospitals, said recently he wished to apologise to women and families for the “shortcomings identified” by Ms Ockenden so far.

Speaking in February following an update on the progress of the Ockenden review, he said: “We know we have much more to do and we are focussed on improving our services. Overall, we are improving – this is evidenced in the latest CQC inspection report, and the recently published CQC maternity survey for 2023.

“However, these improvements must be across the board.”

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