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The Ockenden review into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust (SaTH) last month published its first report setting out actions that need to be urgently implemented to ensure safe practice in maternity services at SaTH and across the NHS in England. When completed, the Ockenden review will likely be the largest clinical review of a single service in the history of the NHS.
Complications that arise at birth can have very serious and devastating consequences on families and loved ones. When those complications are the result of a poor level of care within maternity services it makes it even more painful. If the opportunity to learn from incidents and improve maternity services is repeatedly missed, the damage is much worse. It is not just the families involved who are failed, but anyone who later uses a maternity service that is ultimately not as safe as it should be.
The review of maternity services at SaTH was first commissioned by the government in 2017, after concerns were raised by two sets of parents whose newborn daughters both tragically died. Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton lost their daughter Kate in 2009, and Kayleigh and Colin Griffiths’ daughter Pippa sadly died in 2016.
Both sets of parents questioned the circumstances surrounding their daughters’ deaths and persisted in their calls for an independent review of the maternity care they had received. In its first report, the Ockenden review has stated that both Kate and Pippa’s deaths were avoidable.
The review is being chaired by Donna Ockenden, an expert in midwifery care. Initially 23 cases of potentially substandard maternity care provided to babies and mothers were to be examined when the review started in 2017, but the numbers soon began to rise. When Kingsley Napley wrote an article regarding the inquiry in the summer of 2019, there were over 500 cases under review. The final number of maternity cases that will be reviewed now stands at 1,862.
These include cases of stillbirth, neonatal death, maternal death, hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) (grades 2 and 3) and other severe complications and poor outcomes for mothers and newborn babies which, very sadly, include death, cerebral palsy and other physical injuries. The cases being reviewed predominantly date from between 2000 to 2019, but earlier cases are also being looked at if the records are available.
Key Findings from the Initial Review of 250 Cases
Of the total 1,862 cases, the review has now looked at 250 cases. Its first report describes emerging themes and findings, as well as learning points that must be acted upon at local Trust level and across the wider maternity system.
The findings relating specifically to the maternity service at SaTH have been split into various sub-headings in the report, which set out failings that include:
Inappropriate language was sometimes used in cases of birth injury or death. Some women were blamed for their loss, further compounding their grief, or concerns raised by women and families regarding their care were not listened to at all. Kindness and compassion from medical staff was absent in many cases.
Many cases showed little or no discussion of the most appropriate place of birth. Women and families were not explained what the risks were of births at home or on midwifery-led units, nor what the transfer times were to obstetric-led units if complications did arise.
An overarching theme was repeated failures by midwives and trainee doctors to escalate to senior staff for further review, which is a key part of safe practice. When some concerns were escalated they were not acted on appropriately.
There were a number of cases with repeated attempts at forceps delivery, sometimes with excessive force, where babies sustained injuries including skull fractures and cerebral palsy. Many of these cases were not investigated by SaTH.
Numerous cases where vaginal delivery should not have been attempted or should have been abandoned for delivery by caesarean section. There was also clear evidence that some obstetricians were not following guidelines for safe deliveries.
From the 250 cases reviewed so far, the quality of neonatal care at SaTH for most babies appeared to have been satisfactory or good, and at times excellent. There were a small number of cases where the neonatal care was substandard, but these were very much the exception. So far there was no evidence of systemic poor practice in the neonatal service.
Learning and Action Points for SaTH
The interim report has outlined a number of actions points to assist SaTH in making immediate and significant improvements to its maternity service. Whilst too numerous to list them all in this article, they include:
Immediate and Essential Actions for Maternity Services Across England
The government expressly asked the Ockenden Review to also make recommendations in its first report on how to improve safety in maternity services across England. The interim report has set out these ‘Immediate and Essential Actions’ as:
When the Ockenden review is completed it will likely be the largest number of clinical reviews relating to a single service in the history of the NHS. Sadly, it has come too late for the women and families who have already lost babies and loved ones as a result of avoidable mistakes in maternity care at SaTH. The review however represents an opportunity to learn from past mistakes, which in turn will lead to better outcomes for babies and mothers in the future.
Encouragingly, Louise Barnett, SaTH’s chief executive, has committed to implementing all of the actions outlined in the interim report. The hope is the first report and the full review that follows will improve safety in maternity care not just at SaTH, but at all maternity services across England.
Our team at Kingsley Napley has investigated many cases involving stillbirths, babies who pass away shortly after birth and those born with injuries as a result of childbirth. If you would like some advice on your options and how we can help you, please contact our Medical Negligence & Personal Injury team – alternatively you can call us on 020 7814 1200, or by email at email@example.com.
Punam Sood is a Senior Associate in the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Department. She deals with all aspects of medical negligence claims, including birth injury and acquired brain injury claims, claims relating to fatal accidents, those involving gynaecological injuries following childbirth and those due to the delayed diagnosis of cancer.
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