NHS Trust chief to publicly apologise to victims of maternity care scandal

The head of an under-fire NHS trust will publicly apologise to victims of a maternity scandal as the chair of a review into the episode said the trust has “a lot of learning to do”.

Nick Carver, chairman of the Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust, will apologise on its behalf to parents who were affected by poor maternity care at its annual public meeting on July 10, the trust said on Wednesday.

It comes after families demanded a public apology in a closed meeting held on Tuesday, chaired by Donna Ockenden, who is leading a review into its care.

Families also said that the review should be changed to automatically allow all affected families to be included, rather than asking them to reply to an invitation to share their story.

Sarah and Gary Andrews said their daughter, Wynter, was
Sarah and Gary Andrews said their daughter, Wynter, was ‘failed in the most cruel way’ by the NUH Trust (Joe Giddens/PA)

Speaking on Wednesday, Ms Ockenden said that it was “absolutely crucial” that families came forward to ensure “the trust learns in the way that it should”.

Following the meeting, Anthony May, the Trust’s chief executive, said: “We are absolutely committed to open dialogue with the families and last night we listened very carefully to all they had to say. We will now take time to reflect and make sure we can follow up all the points raised.

“I continue to learn a great deal from meeting women and their families and last night was an important opportunity for me to say sorry for any harm and distress caused by failings in our services.

“We continue to support Donna Ockenden’s independent review because we know how important it is for our learning and local people. We are in regular dialogue with Donna’s team and we are determined to improve our services. I know this is an unsettling time for women and families using our maternity services.

“If anyone has concerns or questions about their care, I encourage them to speak to their midwife or consultant.”

Ms Ockenden said that since September 1, 1,266 families have shared care concerns with the review, including Sarah and Gary Andrews, who in January saw the trust fined a record amount in court after the trust admitted criminal charges relating to the death of their daughter, Wynter, 23 minutes after she was born at the city’s Queen’s Medical Centre in September 2019.

A total of 663 staff have also made contact, with many requesting to be seen individually, which Ms Ockenden said “speaks volumes” about low levels of trust between staff and their employer.

But Ms Ockenden, who previously led a similar review at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, raised concerns that “the method that we have used to date to reach out across the communities just doesn’t seem to be working”, adding that there were “stark differences” in responses to the review between different ethnic groups.

Ms Ockenden said, under the current system, only about a quarter of white women eligible to take part in the review into the NUH Trust had done so, and only about 10% of black women and about five per cent of Asian women.

The NUH Trust has been responsible for finding and contacting families who could be eligible to take part in the review, meaning families have to contact the trust, which then has to contact the review.

But families want this “opt-in” method to be changed to “opt-out”, which would see all affected families automatically eligible to be involved and, when used in the Shrewsbury review, this yielded a 95% response rate.

They will be writing to Ms Ockenden to offer their support for the change, but the final decision will be made by NHS England.

Ms Ockenden said that hearing the views of women from ethnic minorities was “vital” and that women who had already come forward had shown that it is “really, really clear that the Trust have a lot to do to build back trust with so many of their local communities”.

She said: “I can’t stress enough how absolutely vital that the ethnicity and rich diversity we see in Nottingham is represented. It’s absolutely crucial.

“We cannot have another review where sections of our community here in Nottingham say, ‘here we go again, another review has happened, our voices haven’t been heard, what we have to say has not been considered important, and the trust is improving but not with our needs in mind’.

“We cannot allow that to happen.”

Anthony May said the trust is
Anthony May said the trust is ‘absolutely committed to open dialogue’ with families (Joe Giddens/PA)

She added: “Women feel that they’re not listened to, their needs aren’t met, and interpreting services are very poor.”

Ms Ockenden said that as recently as last month, one woman who was in labour had to ring her mother in Pakistan, who then had to contact another relative back in the UK, who then helped translate instructions from caregivers.

“Women tell us, because none of the trust information is available in any other language other than English, for processes such as induction of labour or any other processes that might need to happen, they’re not able to make informed consent,” she said.

She also acknowledged that while some issues were still active within the trust, changes were being made “on a daily basis” and feedback was being given to the trust “in real time”.

The trust also has its own maternity improvement plan, which the review’s concerns are fed into, but she reiterated Mr May’s call for women to speak to health professionals if they have concerns.

Ms Ockenden qualified as a midwife in 1991 (Jacob King/PA)
Ms Ockenden qualified as a midwife in 1991 (Jacob King/PA)

“If local women feel that they have concerns, they must speak out,” she said.

“I would hope that it would put women’s minds at rest that changes are happening as we speak, but ultimately if women want to make a choice to go elsewhere, then that choice is theirs to make.”

Clinical reviews began last month, with Ms Ockenden adding that it was “very likely” the review would need to be extended to ensure it was of the “highest standard”.

No date has yet been fixed for when the final report will be released.