Friday, 1 Mar 2024

Police to probe maternity cases 'of potential significant concern'

Police to launch probe into maternity cases ‘of potential significant concern’ at Nottingham NHS trust

  • Nottinghamshire police will be working alongside the independent review 

Nottinghamshire Police’s senior officers are preparing to launch an investigation into maternity cases ‘of potentially significant concern’ at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. 

A review into the scandal – thought to be the largest ever carried out in the UK – is being conducted by Donna Ockenden, who is examining the cases of over 1,700 families who suffered possible harm to newborn babies and mothers. Dozens are believed to have died or been left seriously injured as a result of medical blunders. 

Chief Constable Kate said the force was committed to working alongside the independent review. Last week, the families of babies affected said they ‘expected action’ and have ‘welcomed’ the force’s decision to launch an investigation. 

In a statement issued on behalf of some of the families affected, they said: ‘A large number of us have alleged crimes and we will be sharing our evidence with the police to assist them with their investigations.’ 

Ms Ockenden, a midwifery expert, investigation into services in Shrewsbury and Telford found at least 201 babies and mothers might have survived had they received better care. 

Nottinghamshire Police’s senior officers are preparing to launch an investigation into maternity cases ‘of potentially significant concern’ at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Announcing an investigation was being prepared, Ms Meynell said: ‘We are currently looking at the work being done in Shrewsbury and Telford by West Mercia Police to understand how they conducted their investigation alongside Donna Ockenden’s review and any lessons learnt. 

READ MORE: Dozens of baby deaths will be probed as inquiry into another scandal-hit NHS maternity unit begins

‘Now we have met with Donna Ockenden we plan to hold preliminary discussions with some local families in the near future.’  

Reacting to the news, the affected families in Nottingham said: ‘We welcome the long-awaited news of this police investigation and we are very grateful to the Chief Constable Kate Meynell for her decision.

‘There will be a wealth of information from victim families for her team to use. A large number of us have alleged crimes and we will be sharing our evidence with the police to assist them with their investigations. There has been poor maternity care as well as poor investigation of that care at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust over many years.

‘Sadly, referral to the police was first mentioned in whistleblowing letters and conversations by Dr Jack and Sarah Hawkins in 2016 following the death of their daughter, Harriet, on the 17th April that year.

‘They specifically asked the leaders of NUHT to notify the police of her avoidable death, not just because of the care, but because of the behaviours of staff who were supposed to investigate and learn from her death. This conversation has been repeated multiple times with senior people at NUHT and with the local NHS over the years.

Donna Ockenden is leading the investigation after some 100 mothers wrote to the then health secretary Sajid Javid to criticise the thematic review of maternity incidents at Nottingham University Hospitals 

‘We anticipate that we will be meeting with the Chief Constable soon to understand what the police investigation will mean for each and every one of us. We hope and believe it will encompass not just the care of individuals who have dead and seriously harmed babies and mothers, but also what families allege is a far-reaching cover-up by NUHT and NHS staff.’

READ MORE: NHS trust is fined £800,000 for ‘systematic failures’ following the death of a baby who died 23 minutes after being born 

Chief Executive of NUH Anthony May has committed to fully cooperate with the police investigation.

Following the announcement Mr May said: ‘From the time of my appointment at NUH, I have expressed my commitment to the Independent Review. I have given the same commitment to the Chief Constable in respect of any Police investigation. I also reiterate the commitment we made to the families involved at our Annual Public Meeting in July of an honest and transparent relationship with them.

‘My colleagues and I work closely with the review team led by Donna Ockenden, to ensure transparent and full engagement. This includes meeting regularly with Donna in order to listen and take action on feedback.

‘We publish Donna’s feedback on our website, and will soon be publishing our response to the feedback we have received so far. The Trust will also now also cooperate fully with any Police investigation.’

‘In the meantime, we will continue with our maternity improvement programme, which is driving changes in our maternity services. These changes include staffing levels, training, compliance with guidelines, record keeping and the provision and use of equipment.

‘Recently, the Care Quality Commission inspected our maternity services and informally reported improvements. The detailed formal CQC report will be published on September 13, so the public will be able to judge the impact of our improvement work.’

To date, dozens of babies are believed to have died or been left with serious injuries as a result of care at the trust, which runs Nottingham’s City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC)

Dr Jack Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet died as a result of failings in 2016, said there were ‘missing classrooms’ of children in Nottingham because of the scandal.

His wife Sarah, who, like her husband, used to work for the trust, added: ‘There were healthy mothers going in with healthy babies and were coming out with empty car seats, they were having to do CPR on their babies and walk out with tiny white coffins. This was absolutely horrific.

‘If this happened in any other walk of life, there would be accountability.’

The trust’s maternity units at the City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre have been rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) since 2020. 

Baby Wynter Andrews died 23 minutes after she was born at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham in 2019. The death of Gary and Sarah Andrews’ daughter led to the trust being prosecuted and fined £800,000 for its failings.

Wynter’s mother Sarah said she was ‘incredibly grateful’ for the review.

She added: ‘Every day there are reminders that Wynter is not here and she should be.

‘When she died, we said we wanted her death to not be in vain and wanted to know change had happened.

‘We hope Donna Ockenden can find out how the situation came about and how the trust was allowing such poor care to happen.’

Commenting on the review, chief executive May said he was committed to being honest and transparent with families and added: ‘We still have a long way(to go), but our communities can be assured that maternity services are improving and we are making sustainable progress in a number of areas to benefit the safety and wellbeing of women, families and staff as part of our maternity improvement programme.

‘Our trust, our hospitals, are a landmark in these communities and we absolutely have to find a way and the capacity to improve if we’re going to maintain the trust and confidence of local people.

‘So whatever the cost, whatever it takes, we must respond to the review.’

Assistant Chief Constable, Rob Griffin has been appointed to oversee the preparations and the subsequent investigation. 

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