UK

Progress in Nottingham maternity services ‘stalled’, inquiry chairwoman fears

The independent review into the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust has been led by Donna Ockenden since 2022.

Queen’s Medical Centre is one of the hospitals run by the trust
Queen’s Medical Centre is one of the hospitals run by the trust (Callum Parke/PA)

A plan to improve maternity services at a scandal-hit NHS trust has stalled amid dirty wards and an overreliance on junior staff, an inquiry chairwoman has said.

Donna Ockenden, a midwifery expert who is leading the largest review into failings in maternity care in NHS history at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUHT) sites, said she is “disappointed” with a lack of progress at the trust.

Her review, which began in 2022, is looking into the deaths of several babies and harming of babies and mothers after significant concerns were raised around the safety and quality of maternity services in Nottingham, and includes experiences of hundreds of families and members of staff.

Ms Ockenden said: “My sense is that perhaps progress on their maternity improvement journey has stalled a bit.

“That’s not good enough, and we need to get that back on track.”

Ms Ockenden thinks the “stalled” improvement may be down to “progress fatigue” and more needs to be done to ensure what is said at “board level is absolutely translating down the layers at ward level”.

An unannounced inspection at Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital conducted by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on June 18 and 19 found that the level of staffing in those maternity services was “insufficient”.

Ms Ockenden said a “flurry” of staff came forward to the review before and during the inspection, who said they often do not feel heard.

She said: “They are telling us that they often feel voiceless within their own service, and they are telling us about the relative invisibility of the senior management team.

“I’m pleased the staff are feeling that they can talk to me and they can contact us, but in an ideal world they wouldn’t need to raise those concerns with us.”

Donna Ockenden, who is leading an inquiry into maternity care within Nottingham University Hospitals
Donna Ockenden, who is leading an inquiry into maternity care within Nottingham University Hospitals (Jacob King/PA)

She said that staff are concerned about “skill mix” where there is an overreliance on junior midwives or nurses instead of people with the appropriate seniority.

Ms Ockenden has also re-raised the issue of poor cleanliness on maternity wards with the NUH trust, which she does not think has been resolved.

She said: “A number of bereaved families have come forward recently telling me about really poor standards of cleanliness, dirty toilets, beds that potentially have been slept in by someone else, those really basic issues.

“If a family has suffered harm, if they’re then poorly treated throughout the process of trying to understand what happened to them, the harm is compounded.

“It’s layered on top and that’s simply not good enough.”

Nottinghamshire Police is launching a separate criminal investigation to look at the failings that led to baby deaths and injuries at the hospitals, which was announced in September.

Although Ms Ockenden warns there is “still a lot to do” in the independent inquiry, she says she will work “tirelessly” with her team to ensure that women get the “best and safest” maternity care.