‘Sense of deja vu’: other maternity victims say Shrewsbury not a one-off


Show caption Sarah and Jack Hawkins of Nottingham lost their daughter Harriet: ‘So many people out there will be coming forward now.’ Photograph: Shawn Ryan NHS ‘Sense of deja vu’: other maternity victims say Shrewsbury not a one-off Families who lost babies in Nottingham, Morecambe and Kent say people are finally listening Jessica Murray Fri 1 Apr 2022 20.13 BST Share on Facebook

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Sarah Hawkins could barely look at the photos of the families affected by the Shrewsbury maternity scandal as they responded to a landmark review this week.

“It’s so difficult even to look at those pictures because I can feel their emotions,” said Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet was stillborn, nine hours after dying, at the end of a six-day labour at Nottingham city hospital in 2016.

“Taking out all the emotions, [the Shrewsbury report] was like a copy and paste of Nottingham. Here, we’ve got dead babies, we’ve got harmed mothers, we’ve got hypoxic babies. It’s absolutely awful.”

What happened in Shrewsbury and Telford is considered the worst maternity scandal in NHS history. But in Nottingham and East Kent, where maternity care failures have also been identified, families are still waiting to find out the full scale of the problem.

A review into maternity services at Nottingham university hospitals NHS trust is under way, with the number of families coming forward increasing from 84 to 387 in just a few weeks.

“We’ve got a private Facebook group just for peer support and we’ve got over 103 people,” said Hawkins. “If Nottingham isn’t on the same scale as Shrewsbury, it’s going to be more. It’s just absolutely horrifying. And I think there will be so many people out there coming forward now and saying, ‘Oh my God, I wasn’t the only one.’”

East Kent hospitals university NHS foundation trust is the subject of a government-ordered review of its maternity care, led by Dr Bill Kirkup, after it emerged a number of babies had died after receiving what their families said was poor care.

“So much of the Ockenden review is so resonant. It’s painful to deal with,” said Helen Gittos, who lost her daughter Harriet eight days after she was born in 2014. She was transferred to hospital after experiencing difficulties during a home birth, but waited more than an hour to see a consultant, and staff went on to claim she had turned down medical intervention, which she refutes.

James Titcombe lost his son Joshua: ‘I was struck by how similar the findings are.’ Photograph: Joel Goodman/LNP

“The way in which I was blamed for what happened was a very difficult thing to deal with. But to learn so many people have experienced the same thing is shocking,” she said. “There is a special kind of awfulness about finding out that none of the awful things that have happened to you are terribly special.”

Reading the Ockenden review was also particularly hard for families affected by the Morecambe Bay inquiry in 2015, which found maternity services were beset by a culture of denial, collusion and incompetence from 2004-2013.

“I had a huge sense of deja vu and of sadness and frustration,” said James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died in 2008 after hospital staff failed to pick up on signs of an infection for almost 24 hours. “I was really struck by how similar the findings are.”

He said he was frustrated to see the same problems highlighted in the Morecambe Bay report still being reported elsewhere, and said people were “just kidding themselves” if they thought the trusts under investigation were “unique one-offs”.

“The problem with Morecambe Bay, I think, was that there was a tendency to dismiss it as a one-off,” he said. “It diminished the need for the whole system to change. We mustn’t make that mistake now with Shrewsbury and Telford. Or we’ll be back here again.”

Titcombe said that while there had been some improvement since the Morecambe Bay investigation, and ONS data showed stillbirths and neonatal deaths had come down, much more needed to be done, and families expressed scepticism about whether the Ockenden report would result in lasting change.

“It doesn’t take much to look at Ockenden, and think, ‘Oh my God, a checklist of changes is not enough’. How do you embed a completely different cultural change in attitudes?,” asked Gittos. “There aren’t enough staff, and the staff that are there are too fearful to ask for help or raise concerns. That does not make me feel very hopeful.”

Hawkins said: “From Nottingham, our own experience is that they say they’ll change, and they don’t. This has all been going on for years, it’s the same things being highlighted and highlighted.

“We’re a growing group of bereaved, harmed families, and people are telling stories we can’t even believe. We don’t know what justice is. But I feel like we’re maybe getting to a place where people are finally listening to us.”

Nottingham University hospitals acting chief executive officer, Rupert Egginton, said: “We are taking the initial feedback that the CQC gave us following their visit in early March seriously, and we await their final report.”

The trust has improved its triage service to separate emergency and planned appointments, and to ensure all mothers and babies get the care they need, he said.

“We know that we have challenges with staffing and we continue with our efforts with recruitment. The inspectors did highlight a number of improvements including positive feedback from families they spoke to about their care, our fetal monitoring and our teams working well together under strong leadership.”

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