Bereaved families in Nottingham have said they are “looking for accountability” one year on from the start of a widescale examination of failings in maternity care.
Donna Ockenden is leading the largest review in NHS history at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, which runs Nottingham City Hospital and the Queen’s Medical Centre.
Around 1,800 families are now expected to be involved in the review, which covers cases including stillbirth, neonatal deaths, brain damage to the baby or harm to mothers.
Ms Ockenden officially started the review on September 1 2022 after bereaved families called on the Health Secretary for urgent change and a previous NHS review was scrapped.
In July, Anthony May, the trust’s Chief Executive, and Nick Carver, the trust’s chair, committed to a “new honest and transparent relationship” with the families whose lives have been affected.
Parents Jack and Sarah Hawkins’ baby Harriet died in 2016, and say they want to see trust board members held accountable for failings.
Dr and Mrs Hawkins were told that Harriet died of an infection, but an independent investigation found her death was “almost certainly preventable”.
Mr May said he “absolutely will” respond to “clear evidence of wrongdoing”.
Mrs Hawkins said: “The trust has promised this open and honest new relationship and we are hopeful that Anthony and Nick will continue delivering that.
“However, we are concerned that board members who we blew this whistle to in 2017 are still in post.
“You can’t change the culture if they’re still in place.
“Seven and a half years ago as two senior NUH clinicians and bereaved parents, we blew the whistle and they didn’t believe us. We’ve got a life sentence, our daughter should be alive.
“It’s only that we have found families going through the same thing that we realised we weren’t isolated cases.”
Dr Hawkins said that the maternity review has been “a really positive change”.
He added: “Having somebody from outside investigate a hospital that we say covered up failures for years and years is massive.
“The review goes over 10 years and there’s around 1,800 people in it. That means there have been 180 very serious events in a year, or three and a half a week.
“How on earth can that have not been noticed?
“There are people at all levels who do not believe there is a maternity scandal to the extent that there is in Nottingham.
“There has been not a single person held to account for so much harm. We are now very clearly looking for accountability.
“There are still board members who have been there throughout this scandal and we don’t understand how that can be.
“The review has the power to highlight change, but we need people being held to account to force change.”
Dr and Mrs Hawkins and other bereaved families say current board members who were also members at the time of Harriet’s death, which include Medical Director Keith Girling and Deputy Chief Executive Rupert Egginton, should be among those held accountable for any findings.
Kim Errington’s baby Teddy was born on November 23 2020 and died on November 24 at City Hospital.
An inquest heard there were “undoubted failings” by the healthcare professionals involved in his care.
Ms Errington says that the trust had accepted liability for Teddy’s death earlier this year.
She said: “Donna and her team have been superheroes. They are caring and empathetic human beings.
“They are able to treat you and your trauma with such dignity, respect and compassion which is what we were lacking.
“To have that is a big leap towards being able to digest and be able to start healing.”
In October 2021 The Care Quality Commission (CQC) set up an NHS review which looks into ‘maternity incidents, complaints and concerns’.
But the review was scrapped in May 2022 after families called on health secretary Sajid Javid to appoint Donna Ockenden instead.
Ms Errington said: “The last review impacted even more on people’s trauma. It was a cover-up.
“It was horrific and there has never been any proper explanation of it. It’s been massively exhausting.”
Ms Errington added that “cultures and attitudes” need to change within the trust.
She said: “It’s going to be quite significant when the full picture comes out.
“Change means clearing out the old rotten staff from the board level down.
“We’ve had positive change with Anthony May and Nick Carver but there are still board directors that need to go and be called to account.
“That is more clear than ever with the horrific events in the news [with Lucy Letby].
“It needs to change across the whole NHS because it cannot be a corporate playground for people.
“The board, the changing beast that it has been, has always been informed of what’s been going on.”
Anthony May, Chief Executive at the trust, said the organisation has made improvements within the triage service, fetal heart monitoring and a new electronic record system.
Speaking on holding staff accountable for their actions, he said: “It’s really important that we see improvement and accountability as being part of the same story.
“We want people to be able to practice safely even if they make a mistake.
“I understand the families’ perspective about wanting to see people or the trust being held to account for things that have gone wrong.
“I can assure the public that we’ve got a fit and proper person’s test in place and we’ve just been inspected by the Care Quality Commission, who saw improvements.
“We’ve got to deal with these things in the here and now. If there is clear evidence of wrongdoing in the trust, it is my responsibility and accountability to address it, and we absolutely will.”
He added: “I have received an assurance from the Chief Constable that there is nothing we should be concerned about here and now.
“Anything that was referred to the police in the last number of years will have been looked at according to the police’s procedures. I am not a party to that.”