Labour's Wes Streeting issues message to families over Nottingham maternity scandal public inquiry

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary
-Credit: (Image: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

The man who could be the next health secretary has explained why he does not think a public inquiry into failing maternity units like Nottingham's would be right for families. Labour's Wes Streeting says "we don't have a lot of time on our side" when it comes to improving the situation facing parents in areas like Nottingham.

The Nottingham University Hospitals Trust (NUH) remains the subject of the largest maternity review in NHS history, with Donna Ockenden reviewing at least 1,800 cases across the Queen's Medical Centre and City Hospital. Nottinghamshire Police is also carrying out its own investigation into NUH.

Many of the families affected by failings in Nottingham have called for a public inquiry to look at the state of maternity units across the country, given that concerns have been raised in scores of hospitals. Although Wes Streeting said he would meet the families to hear their case, he suggested that holding a full public inquiry would not be his preferred option.

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Mr Streeting told Nottinghamshire Live: "I know there are families calling for a public inquiry on maternity and I'm absolutely willing to sit down and talk to the families to listen to their case. If I am the next health secretary, I think the one risk factor that I will put to the families to gauge their reaction is that public inquiries take a lot of time.

"I don't feel that on maternity services we have a lot of time on our side. I would rather, if we can, move faster on the basis of the reviews and the evidence we already have rather than start a full-scale public inquiry.

"But I feel I owe it to the families to have that conversation with them, to listen to their case and their experiences and to reassure them also that this is a personal priority for me." Donna Ockenden's final report on Nottingham's maternity services is not due to be finished until September 2025.

Asked what could be done to protect women giving birth in the meantime, Mr Streeting said: "I will be making an immediate appeal to staff who've left the NHS in recent years, particularly maternity, to come back and to be part of turning around the dire situation that forced them to leave in the first place.

"I know so many midwives have left the NHS because they fear for patient safety and they have felt powerless to do anything about it and they have been terrified of carrying that risk and responsibility. I hope we can provide people who've left the NHS with the reassurance that they will be working as part of a team that's honest about its failings and has a plan to turn them around."

Labour has said in its manifesto that hospital trusts failing on maternity care would be "robustly supported into rapid improvement", with the party pledging to train thousands more midwives. The party has also pledged that it would sack NHS managers who try and prevent whistleblowers from speaking out on issues like those seen in maternity units.