Families have repeated their call for Donna Ockenden to lead an investigation into Nottingham’s ‘inadequate’ maternity services after the chair of an NHS review stepped down less than two weeks after she was appointed.
NHS England said Julie Dent will no longer chair the ongoing NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) review of maternity care at both the Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital.
It was announced on Wednesday (May 4) that the former Devon Partnership NHS Trust chair has stepped down for “personal reasons”.
Some of the bereaved Nottingham families involved in the review had said they felt “severely let down, confused and further traumatised” after Ms Dent was appointed on April 22 without them being consulted.
They had previously called for midwife Donna Ockenden to carry out an investigation in Nottingham into how services at both hospitals are run by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH).
• Health and Social Care Secretary meets with Nottingham maternity review families – review Chair steps down
It follows her damning report into Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, published earlier this year, which found “repeated failures” spanning a period of 20 years.
Some families now believe the departure of Ms Dent opens the door for Ms Ockenden to be appointed by the Government to chair a wide-ranging public inquiry.
Representatives of four affected Nottingham families also met Health Secretary Sajid Javid in person on Wednesday (May 4) to raise the concerns of the wider campaign group, and say they hope he will be able to “overcome the few obstacles” to appointing Ms Ockenden.
Parents Jack and Sarah Hawkins spoke out after their daughter Harriet was stillborn at the trust in April 2016. An independent report later found a host of factors contributed to the death and NUH apologised to the family.
Speaking following the meeting with Mr Javid, Jack Hawkins said families had felt “heard” by the Health Secretary but reiterated their calls for further action into NUH’s maternity care.
Speaking on behalf of some the families involved in the review, he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “This is a big job and it needs somebody who knows what they’re doing.
“The current review is described as an experimental technique and we’re not prepared to be experimented on.
“We hope that, on reflection, the Secretary of State is able to overcome the few obstacles to appointing Donna Ockenden.
“Her appointment would bring a variety of things.
“It certainly feels they have ignored our needs and wishes in commissioning this latest review.
“Having Donna Ockenden here would mean we have been heard and that, in itself, is powerful for the wider local NHS – they can’t keep on knocking us over.
“We think this would start to improve the services in a way that just isn’t happening. She knows how to get this set up quickly, she has systems that will work and it would be difficult to pull the wool over her eyes.”
The meeting came in response to concerns raised about the pace of improvement in maternity care standards across NUH in recent years and fears some affected families not being properly listened to in the review process.
Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission graded the trust’s maternity care as ‘inadequate’ in 2020 and last visited to check its progress in March. The findings of this visit are expected to be published soon.
The existing NHS review is looking into the care of hundreds of families following a number of baby deaths, injuries and other incidents dating back to 2006.
About 500 families were confirmed to have come forward to take part in the probe by the end of April, with a mixture of positive and negative experiences.
And commenting after meeting some of the affected families, Mr Javid spoke of the “harrowing failures” experienced by some mothers and babies at NUH’s maternity units.
He said: “I met with families to listen and understand their concerns about the review into maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals.
“My sympathies remain with all those tragically affected by these harrowing failures and I acknowledge the courage and strength shown by all.
“It is crucial that the best possible leadership is in place to deliver an independent review that leads to real change, and I am working with the NHS to deliver on this and ensure no families have to go through the same pain again.”
David Sloman, chief operating officer of NHS England and NHS Improvement, said in a letter to families that Ms Dent’s departure down “in no way changes” the “enhanced national oversight” on the review announced when she was appointed.
He added he would contact families again shortly to update them on the next steps for the review and its leadership.
He said: “The NHS remains committed to ensuring that the experiences of families, any themes identified across maternity safety incidents, and concerns raised, all drive rapid improvements in care for women and babies in Nottingham.
“We absolutely recognise that there is more to do to improve the engagement and communication with families, and this is a priority as we establish a new review process.
“I will write again shortly to set out the next steps regarding the leadership of the review, building on the feedback received so far and following discussions with a number of families this week hosted by the Department for Health and Social Care.”
A Nottingham University Hospitals spokesperson previously said: “We will continue to engage fully with the independent review and remain committed to improving local maternity services using feedback from the review as well as local families and NHS partners.”