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NHS could face biggest maternity scandal as Nottingham inquiry expected to exceed 1,500 cases



The NHS could be facing its largest-ever maternity scandal as the review into services at Nottingham University Hospitals Foundation Trust (NUH) is now expected to involve more than 1,500 cases,

The investigation started in 2020, after The Independent newspaper revealed that dozens of babies had died, or been left with serious injuries or brain damage, as a result of care at NUH, which runs Nottingham’s City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC).

The scope of the investigation has now expanded, with Nottingham University Hospitals Foundation Trust inviting more than 1,000 women to contact the independent inquiry, after 700 families previously came forward with their concerns.

Of these, The Independent said that it understands the number of families officials expect to be covered by the probe is over 1,500, more than the 1,486 examined during the UK’s current largest maternity scandal in Shrewsbury.

The timeframe of the Nottingham investigation is also shorter, covering incidents from 2012 onwards compared to Shrewsbury, where cases ranged from 1973 to 2020, with most occurring since 2000. 

Families approached by the Nottingham trust include those who’ve suffered stillbirths, neonatal deaths from 24 weeks gestation up to 28 days of life, babies diagnosed with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or another brain injury, maternal deaths up to 42 days post-partum and severe maternal harm.

Bereaved parents who have previously spoken out have claimed families were “ignored” by caregivers at the trust, and have called for an independent inquiry for some time.

The Independent said that it understands that not all families who have received new letters from the trust will have had notice of potential poor care.

Sarah Hawkins, who lost her daughter Harriet in 2016 following negligence by staff at Nottingham City Hospital, told The Independent: “It is truly devastating to begin to learn the extent of harm that has been happening to families in Nottinghamshire.

“Having all once stood alone isolated in our grief and harm we are now surrounded by a large and growing number of families.

“To anyone receiving a letter about their care, we as families would like to offer our strength and support at such a challenging time. We would urge people to contact the review team. They are approachable and kind.”

When reporting on the scandal in 2021, The Independent revealed that in some instances, key medical notes were missing or never made, while others were completely inaccurate. 

The NHS trust failed to properly investigate some deaths for months and, in instances when it did, details were wrong or reviews were diluted by senior management to lessen the criticism.

A whistleblower previously claimed a “Teflon team” of managers allowed staffing shortages to build up to dangerous levels, while pleas from midwives were ignored and incidents “swept under the carpet.”

Millions of pounds have already been paid out by the trust following hundreds of clinical negligence claims.

The initial review launched in 2021 was replaced after families complained and is now being led by Baby Lifeline honorary president and chair the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SATH) maternity inquiry, Donna Ockenden.

The SATH report, published last year, found 300 babies had died, or become brain injured, out of just more than 1,592 incidents across 1,486 families analysed by the review team.

The new review into Nottingham started last autumn and it is estimated the final report will be published in March 2024.

Ms Ockenden told The Independent: “We recognise that it can be difficult to receive these letters with such sad content. The review team is available to provide support where needed and a reminder that we can’t access medical records without families’ permission.  

“So please do respond to the letter and, if you’ve got any questions, get in touch with the team.”

The news follows the publication of the inquiry into maternity failings in East Kent, which found poor care may have led to the deaths of 45 babies, with 97 cases of harm.

Head of research and development at Baby Lifeline, Sara Ledger, said: “The fact that so many families are coming forward for the Nottingham maternity review is extremely significant. It demonstrates how many lives are being affected by problems in our NHS maternity services, and how important these reviews are in terms of enabling families’ voices to be heard.

“There have now been many high-profile investigations into maternity safety within NHS Trusts up and down the country, which have in turn produced stringent recommendations and clarity around immediate and essential actions.

“The Independent Review into Maternity Services at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS, which is being led by Donna Ockenden, will contribute yet more evidence and recommendations to those made in previous investigations.”

A spokeswoman for NUH said: “Alongside Donna Ockenden, we have written to more than 1,000 families identified as having maternity cases potentially relevant to the independent review of our maternity services, based on the five categories identified in the terms of reference.

We are committed to making the necessary and sustainable improvements to our maternity services and this is why we will continue to do all we can to support the work of the independent review.