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Ockenden Maternity Review: Chair ‘heartened’ by Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting’s Nottinghamshire visits

The former Conservative Government ‘took its eyes off the ball’ when it came to improving failing maternity services, the chair of the Nottingham review says.

Midwife Donna Ockenden, who is running the review into maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH), says she is disappointed her essential actions from a previous Shrewsbury inquiry have still not been put in place.

Ms Ockenden led an inquiry into the services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust (SaTH), and made numerous recommendations upon its conclusion in 2022.

Then Health Secretary Sajid Javid (Con) had endorsed the findings and pledged to put in place her recommendations quickly.

However a period of instability afterwards, during which the position changed hands four times, meant the Government “took their eye off the ball”, Ms Ockenden said.

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Previous holders of the role included Jeremy Hunt in 2018, Matt Hancock from 2018 to 2021, Sajid Javid from 2021 to 2022, Steve Barclay for a first time in 2022, Therese Coffey in 2022, Steve Barclay again from the latter part of 2022 to 2023, and finally Victoria Atkins from 2023 to 2024.

“So when we published the Shrewsbury report at the end of March 2022, I was really grateful for the support of Sajid Javid,” she said.

“He was the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, he fully endorsed all of our findings and gave a commitment that they would be put in place swiftly.

“Unfortunately, we then saw a number of secretaries of state after him and, to use a football metaphor, the Government definitely took their eye off the ball as regards to maternity services.

“So very, very disappointing.”

During a visit to Nottinghamshire in March, former Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had said: “More generally what we have done is to invest around £150m extra in strengthening maternity services across the country because it is incredibly important.

“We have had incidences in different areas where services have not been at the standard that any of us would expect or that people deserve.

“I’m sure the health trust here will take on board all the recommendations of the report and make sure patients get the care they need.”

Ms Ockenden went on to say she was “heartened” to see Labour’s leader and now Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer, in the East Midlands on numerous occasions, alongside and Health Secretary Wes Streeting, in the run up to the election.

During their visits Mr Streeting pledged to be guided by Ms Ockenden’s review.

“I trust her, I trust her advice,” Mr Streeting said back in April.

He said: “Labour has already committed, as part of the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history, to train up more midwives which is part of the problem – but a lot of these other issues about culture, about listening to whistle-blowers, listening to parents particularly new mums, there are lots of lessons to be learned.”

Ms Ockenden added her essential actions from the Shrewsbury report remain relevant and ready to be implemented.

“That March 2022 report, which is now over two years old, I still believe stands as a strong blueprint and a way forward for maternity services and I am pleased to hear that Mr Streeting, prior to being appointed secretary of state, in the election campaign gave an absolute commitment to rapid progress on that,” she said.

“I’m willing to assist in any way that I can.”

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