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Inquiry set to examine maternity care at Nottingham hospital trust after mother and baby deaths

Exclusive: Minister agrees to meet with MPs after The Independent revealed safety concerns for mothers and babies

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 13 July 2021 17:27 BST
Bereaved parents demand answers over poor maternity care at Nottingham hospital

An independent inquiry will examine maternity care at one of England’s largest hospitals after The Independent revealed dozens of deaths and injured babies at the trust.

Patient safety minister Nadine Dorries has said maternity care at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust will be examined by an independent external review, which will look at cases going back to at least 2016.

She has also agreed to meet with local MPs about concerns surrounding the safety of maternity services at the trust, which are rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Families have welcomed the review, but say they must be fully involved in setting its terms of reference and ensuring it is truly independent.

A joint investigation by The Independent and Channel 4 News last month revealed the East Midlands trust had paid out £91 million in compensation after more than 30 deaths and 46 babies were left permanently brain damaged in recent years.

A number of families have faced a lack of transparency by the trust after mistakes in care, with key medical notes missing or inaccurate as well as failures to investigate serious incidents and reports being watered down. One mother’s death in 2020 was categorised as a low-harm incident.

Whistle-blowers have raised fears over a lack of staff, with the trust telling The Independent it was fighting to fill 70 full-time vacancies for midwives.

A cross-party group of Nottinghamshire MPs twice wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock earlier this year raising their fears over poor care at the trust, without receiving a response.

Now Nadine Dorries says she will meet with MPs over the issue, saying: “We are taking your concerns very seriously. The department is working with NHS England to ensure oversight and monitoring at the trust.

She added: “NHS England and the clinical commissioning group are finalising the terms of reference for an independent thematic review of maternity cases going back to 2016 to establish whether there was effective reporting, investigation and monitoring of these in line with the NHS serious incident framework and whether appropriate actions were taken in response.”

She says senior clinicians had been drafted in to carry out “twice daily visits” on both Nottingham hospital sites to examine staffing levels and the demand from patients to make sure services were safe.

A maternity improvement adviser is also working with the trust, which is being supported by the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire Trust. Staff in the maternity units are also being encouraged to raise concerns anonymously.

The Independent understands officials from Nottingham and Nottinghamshire CCG are considering the details of the review and how families will be involved so their views are taken into account before the inquiry begins its work.

Jack Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet died as a result of mistakes at the trust in April 2016, told The Independent any review should go further back than 2016, as the trust had admitted to him that cases of stillbirths were not properly investigated in 2014 and 2015 before his daughter’s death.

He says: “The service at Nottingham has not just suddenly gone bad, it has been bad for a long time and has just been found out. It has to go back further.

“We should be involved in the terms of reference and to be truly independent, no one from NUH should be involved other than as witnesses giving evidence.

“As families, we feel very powerful at the moment and we will not accept anything being watered down. We are not going away.”

Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South, says she hoped the minister would be prepared to include families such as the Hawkins in any meeting about the trust: “It’s essential that when she meets us, Nadine Dorries also hears direct from families about their experiences. She needs to understand why MPs and parents are united in calling for a public inquiry, to finally ensure that lessons are learned and long overdue changes made to keep mothers and babies safe.”

“I also welcome the news that there will be an independent review of maternity cases to scrutinise the reporting, investigation and monitoring of serious incidents by the trust.”

A spokesperson for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire CCGs says: “NHS partners in Nottinghamshire are committed to learning from incidents relating to maternity care at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, and will be confirming plans for an independent thematic review in the coming weeks.

“Although it is currently too early for us to describe plans for this review in detail, this is just one of the measures we are taking to ensure mothers and families receive the high levels of care expected from the NHS.”

Nottingham hospitals chief nurse Michelle Rhodes says: “We are truly sorry that not every family using our maternity services has received the high quality of care they deserve. We will work alongside our healthcare partners, and listen to families and our staff, to ensure we improve our maternity care – we welcome this review.”

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