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NUH maternity bosses offer apology for baby deaths but grieving families call for public inquiry

Senior leaders at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust have offered an apology to bereaved families and committed to improving inadequate maternity services within three years.

Chief Nurse Michelle Rhodes and Director of Midwifery Sharon Wallis spoke about the widespread cultural change which is needed at the trust, where there have been dozens of baby deaths and injuries.

Both talked after a Nottingham City Council Health Scrutiny Committee meeting on Thursday (February 17), saying they expect the trust to return to a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Care Quality Commission (CQC) rating by mid-2024.

Trust bosses previously said they could improve the rating by January 2021 – something which Ms Rhodes said was “over-ambitious”.

Maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals – including Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital – are rated as inadequate by the commission and the trust as a whole ‘requires improvement’.

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Maternity services, which have historically struggled with staffing, currently have a “substantial” number of vacancies.

Ms Rhodes said: “I live in Nottingham, my whole family is from Nottingham. For me, this is about getting it right for my family, for your family, for everybody that lives here.

“What I want to say is the deep sorrow I feel for families because we know whatever we do, this is never going to take away what happened to them.

“If I lost a baby in the circumstances that some of them have, I don’t know how you ever get over that.

“The hardest thing for me is to be able to say to families how sorry I am, knowing that it is a very small word and the impact on them is as big as the world.

“I don’t know how we can ever be forgiven for what’s happened and I am not expecting we ever will be. We are deeply sorry.”

Ms Wallis said hearing stories of failings in maternity services were “heart-breaking”.

She said: “I left a really good, positive successful trust to come here.

“I trained at Nottingham and I feel like it’s full circle.

“It’s having that belief and recognition and learning from the past is so important that we do that and embed it. We’ve also got to look forward as well.”

She expressed the importance of “absolutely acknowledging what’s happened before and to all of our families that we have failed”.

Ms Rhodes and Ms Wallis, who joined the organisation in 2021, said staff are “engaged and keen to change”, and some key improvements have been made so far.

Ms Wallis added: “It is fair to say the staff have been damaged. We are working with quite a bruised workforce that have to build that confidence and trust that we will be following through on our actions.

“It’s about the sustainability. We can paint over something so it looks pretty but underneath it’s still rotten. It can’t be like that, it’s got to be absolutely solid.”

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which organises local NHS services, is currently undertaking an independent review into the trust, dating back to 2006, to examine how a number of baby deaths occurred.

But families and some MPs and councillors have called for a public inquiry.

Ms Rhodes said: “I understand why families are pushing for a public inquiry. The worry for me is that some of them take years, and to put families through that is awful.

“We are going to do as much as we can with the current review to make sure families do get more answers in a quicker timescale.”

She added: “We need to make sure the changes that are made are sustainable and last forever.

“We are not putting any sticking plasters on here. This is all about getting right down into the detail working with teams and families so we don’t end up back in this situation again.”

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