'No-one will escape accountability' says Nottingham maternity review chair

Donna Ockenden, chair of the independent review of maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals, pictured in Nottingham City Centre
Donna Ockenden, chair of the independent review of maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

The chair of a review into maternity care at Nottingham hospitals says she will do "everything she can" to make sure everybody is held to account. Almost 1,900 families are part of an ongoing independent review into hundreds of baby deaths and injuries at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) - the biggest in NHS history.

A separate criminal investigation into the trust, which runs the Queen's Medical Centre and City Hospital, was announced by Nottinghamshire Police in September and is due to start this spring. Providing an update on the review on Wednesday, April 24, its chair, senior midwife Donna Ockenden, said her team had so far spent 15,700 hours reviewing clinical records.

"We're on target in terms of where we should be at the moment," she said. "We're making really good progress in our work."

Families wishing to contact the independent review can do so by emailing nottsreview@donnaockenden.com or by filling out an online form here

Ms Ockenden said there were 1,898 active families in the review, which is open to taking new cases until three months prior to its expected completion date in September 2025. This includes cases of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, baby injuries and maternal deaths and injuries since 2012.

Families affected by maternity failings have raised concerns about a potential lack of accountability for staff who leave NUH, in particular Dr Keith Girling, who is retiring after seven years as medical director in the summer. Dr Jack Hawkins and Sarah Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet died due to failings in 2016, said Mr Girling failed to properly listen to their concerns despite meeting and sending letters at the time.

"If we come across serious significant issues of concern we will report them straight away," said Ms Ockenden. "Whether someone is in post or has subsequently retired, we think it is their public duty to fully co-operate with the review.

"I can't make someone do that because it isn't a statuary inquiry, but I'll do everything I can to ensure that everybody is held to account." She said this would include conversations with regulators such as the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham
The Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

"And I'd be raising my concerns at the highest level at NHS England. Former staff who are significant and might choose not to co-operate, the absence of their co-operation will be noted in the report."

Around 720 staff, both past and present, have contacted the review. Ms Ockenden said workers had raised concerns over staffing levels - "although we're told that's starting to improve" - and midwives not being given time to care.

"We're keeping a very close eye on that," she said. "I think it's fair to say that staff are sensing that maternity is on an improvement journey. A number of them are saying they do feel it is a better place to work but they do feel it's got a long way to go."

She said some were calling the review directly "saying they feel they've hit a brick wall in terms of some of the resources that they need" and said some described bullying and discrimination. "It has come through in some of the interviews.

"What staff are telling us is there's an entrenched and long term problem that can't be fixed overnight. There is some improvement and it will be something we need to monitor closely."

Ms Ockenden said she wants to reach out to staff across all levels and backgrounds. "So far we've had far more white staff come forward than mixed race, black and Asian. Staff can contact us in confidence, no-one in the NHS has access and what they tell us can be anonymised."

Anthony May, Chief Executive at NUH said: “I am grateful for Donna Ockenden’s continued engagement with us as part of our focus on improving out maternity services. Clearly the most recent feedback makes difficult reading in places, and identifies areas where we must do better.

“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. I want all our services to be inclusive and I want all of our patients and their families to engage with our services safe in the knowledge that they are free of discrimination. Inclusive maternity services is a high priority for the organisation and has my personal support, as well as that of the Chairman of the Trust, Nick Carver.

“I would encourage anyone who has experienced discriminatory behaviour to contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) Team to enable us to investigate the incidents thoroughly and take any appropriate action.” Ms Ockenden's team are organising a meeting for families in Nottingham city centre for June 15, at a time and venue yet to be confirmed.

Families wishing to contact the review can do so by emailing nottsreview@donnaockenden.com or by filling out an online form here

Staff can contact the review by emailing staffvoices@donnaockenden.com