What’s next for NHS Maternity Services?

On 11 August 2021, the Independent held a virtual event to discuss what improvements need to be made to NHS maternity services. ‘NHS maternity scandal: Inside a crisis’ was attended by two of our clinical negligence solicitors, given the large amount of maternity claims Lanyon Bowdler is pursuing against The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust spanning across a number of years.

The speakers included midwife and chair of the independent investigation into the maternity services at The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, Donna Ockenden, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Eddie Morris, patient safety campaigner and bereaved father, James Titcombe, and the Independent’s, Shaun Lintern.

Donna Ockenden provided an update of her review, noting the review closed to new applications in July 2020 with a total of 1,862 families involved. Donna explained that her interim Emerging Findings Report was released in December 2020. This interim report did not contain any recommendations, but rather contained ‘must do’ immediate actions written by real doctors and midwives who are still working within the NHS. Donna likened the interim report to a call to action. Important areas, which were highlighted in the Emerging Findings Report, included the lack of listening to families, the lack of risk assessment, issues with obtaining informed consent, lack of training for staff and a lack of collaboration between staff.

James Titcombe was a member of the panel. He is a patient safety specialist following the death of his 9 day old son, Joshua, at Furness General Hospital. Joshua’s death sparked the Morecambe Bay maternity investigation. James explained that the most shocking factor for him involving the events with his son was how their family was treated after Joshua’s death. He explained there was an unkindness towards families. James felt the overzealous pursuit for vaginal birth had gone too far and the campaign for having a natural birth was unhelpful. James also recalled the lack of communication between the staff with the doctors and nurses not talking to each other. James explained that people thought the Morecambe Bay incident was an isolated issue rather than there being issues affecting maternity units across the country. He believes that systemic change is needed in every maternity unit.

Dr Eddie Morris considers that the resources put into maternity units have not kept up with rapid pace of change of expectant mothers in the UK. Dr Morris explained that there are increased risks for pregnant women with raised BMIs. Those women with raised BMIs risk developing gestational diabetes, having larger babies and there is an increased risk of needing intervention during labour. Dr Morris noted that during COVID maternity staff were being redeployed, which was inappropriate given that pregnant women were continuing to give birth to babies.

Donna Ockenden considers one of the major issues is that maternity units are not treated in the same way as accident and emergency units. Donna believes that maternity units should be treated as women’s accident and emergency units as the NHS staff do not know who is going to enter the front door on a day-to-day basis and must be responsive.

The NHS maternity services were granted £96 million in funding this year. Donna believes that with this funding maternity services have made some progress and more staff have been recruited. However, issues remain with the retention and wellbeing of staff. The retention of staff has to be an ongoing focus for the NHS.

Although the UK is considered one of the safest places to give birth, if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog or indeed any wider issues relating to maternity care, please get in touch with our team, who are experienced in dealing with claims of this sensitive nature and will guide you at every stage.