A senior midwife who led the investigation into what was dubbed the worst maternity scandal in NHS history has said she would be willing to lead an inquiry into the deaths of dozens of babies at one of the UK’s largest hospitals.
An investigation by The Independent and Channel 4 News found last year that at least 46 babies suffered brain damage and 19 were stillborn at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust in the decade to 2020.
The probe uncovered repeated examples of poor care and failures to properly investigate concerns, with parents forced to fight to find out the truth about what happened to their child.
While an NHS-led review is currently underway in Nottingham, dozens of families wrote to health secretary Sajid Javid this week warning that it had so far “been less than impactful, understaffed and moving with the viscosity of treacle”.
The letter from more than 100 families and individuals called for the review to be replaced by a public inquiry and an urgent investigation led by Donna Ockenden, whose damning report into the maternity scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust was published last week.
Now, in a letter to parents, Ms Ockenden has said she is “honoured and touched” to have been asked by the families to lead an inquiry.
Any potential investigation led by Ms Ockenden would be subject to approval from Mr Javid.
“Clearly there would need to be an appointment process – it’s not up to me to appoint myself of course,” Ms Ockenden told BBC Radio Shropshire. “I’ve responded [to the families] and said I’m deeply honoured.
“I would of course take on [and] chair that review, but there is a team in place at the moment, it’s not my decision as to whether I take it on. I know that the families in Nottingham have said that they’ve written to the secretary of state, so we can await the next steps.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Channel 4 News, which first reported Ms Ockenden’s response, that it is reviewing the families’ request. The Independent understands that no decisions have yet been made, but that the DHSC plans to respond in due course.
The current review in Nottingham, which is being led by local NHS commissioners and NHS England, has been running for six months and is due to publish its findings later this year.
In their letter to Mr Javid, the affected families and individuals said that the review currently has only three clinical leads, compared to the 76 clinicians employed in the review led by Ms Ockenden into the scandal Shrewsbury and Telford, which found that hundreds of babies had died or suffered a brain injury as a result of poor care.
“The current team are unprepared and lack experienced leadership to handle a review of this magnitude,” they alleged, adding: “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 drag on, whereas Donna Ockenden has the team, and a public inquiry has definitive timelines. The affected families and general public deserve that certainty.”
A statement from the families alleged that, since 2018, there have been 34 maternity investigations following adverse events at the trust, including three maternal deaths, 22 babies who faced potential severe brain injury, four neonatal deaths and five stillbirths.
Maternity units overseen by the trust, which runs Nottingham City Hospital and the Queen’s Medical Centre, were rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) watchdog in 2020, with inspectors warning of unsafe staffing levels and that patient safety incidents were potentially being wrongly downgraded.
“This meant that incidents may not be investigated fully, nor duty of candour applied correctly. People would be at risk of harm as lessons could not be learnt,” the inspectors said.
Following a reinspection last month, the Care Quality Commission reportedly issued a warning notice which raised concerns about an increase in stillbirths and said that the trust’s maternity services fell below legal requirements.