Nottingham maternity review chair urges Government to put in place ‘essential actions’ as more families join inquiry

Donna Ockenden on a visit to Nottingham on April 24
Donna Ockenden on a visit to Nottingham on April 24
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

The chair of the Nottingham maternity review has urged the Government to implement a series of urgent actions as dozens more families join the inquiry.

Senior midwife Donna Ockenden is currently examining cases of maternity care at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH), which runs the Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital, in what’s considered the largest review of its kind.

The review involves looking at cases of stillbirth, neonatal deaths, brain damage to the baby, harm to mothers or mothers who have died.

In February, Ms Ockenden said 1,813 families had joined the review and this has since increased to 1,898.

A further 412 maternity experiences are being reviewed, while 720 staff members are involved.

Out of these, 160 staff members have requested meetings.

“Those numbers are of course real stories of tragedy, of life-changing events that those families could not have possibly have thought would happen to them,” Ms Ockenden told the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Wednesday, April 24.

“We are working at reaching out to all kinds of families across Nottinghamshire, and we are still picking up themes about inequality in the provision of healthcare, racism, and discrimination.

“A theme we have fed back to the Trust that we do still hear of is women not being believed when they say they are in labour.”

Ms Ockenden says progress has been made, while Chief Executive of NUH, Anthony May, said in February the trust has a “determination to address these issues as quickly as we can”.

“In terms of NUH listening I have every confidence in the leadership, Anthony May as chief executive and Nick Carver as chair,” Ms Ockenden added.

“They have given me their word that the findings we share with them, with permission of mothers, absolutely are built into the maternity improvement plan.”

Families and campaign groups, including the Maternity Safety Alliance, continue to call for a statutory public inquiry.

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 this year.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting (Lab) also said at the start of April he would be guided by Ms Ockenden if Labour is elected into power.

Ms Ockenden says she believes the first step is for the Government to implement all essential actions from her time leading a previous review into Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust’s maternity services.

A Health and Social Care Committee: Safety of Maternity Services in England report recommended the national maternity budget to be increased by £200m to £350m per annum with immediate effect.

Ms Ockenden says she understands about £185m has been invested so far.

“I fully appreciate why the families are calling for a national inquiry, a public inquiry, across England in terms of maternity services. I fully appreciate where they are coming from,” she said.

“I think as a first step Government must fully implement all of my immediately essential actions from the two reports into Shrewsbury, December 2020 and March 2022.

“That gave the Government a blueprint for maternity services, a way forward, a road. Of course, it is really, really important the then-Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, fully endorsed …, the findings of my team and I.

“From my perspective, they were not recommendations. They were immediate and essential actions and I think what we should be doing now is really moving at pace, it is more than two years since I published my Shrewsbury report.”

Ms Ockenden emphasised green shoots of improvement had been seen in midwifery recruitment and retention nationally, but a “frost can kill off green shoots”.

In March the Department for Health and Social Care announced £35m investment to fund specialist training for staff and additional midwives to improve maternity services.

Current Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Improving maternity care is a key cornerstone of our Women’s Health Strategy and with this investment, we are delivering on that priority – more midwives, specialist training in obstetric medicine and pushing to improve how women are listened to in our healthcare system.”

In Nottingham, she said families yet to come forward still have time to do so.

The final report is expected to be published in September 2025, meaning the review can still hear from families until May to June next year.

“We are really making very good progress,” Ms Ockenden said. “If you are worried you haven’t heard from us please do get in touch.

“A reminder that for families in the review, there is fully comprehensive psychological and listening support available.”

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