Top midwife 'angry' at 'wholly insufficient' progress two years after key report

By John Mercury May 16, 2024

A maternity expert behind a key 2022 report has told Sky News she is “angry” over government inaction after a landmark inquiry found good care “is the exception rather than the rule”.

Donna Ockenden, whose report in March 2022 listed 15 areas for “immediate and essential action”, said families have been “let down” by failure to improve services across England.

Then-health secretary Sajid Javid pledged to “make the changes that are needed” following that report.

But this week, an inquiry into birth trauma found there was “shockingly poor quality” in maternity services, resulting in a system where “poor care is all too frequently tolerated as normal”.

“If we look at the issue that underpins the delivery of all safe maternity care – which is funding, workforce and training – we’ve made really disappointing progress on that,” she said.

“Warm words are no longer enough, action needs to happen and it needed to happen a long time ago.”

Ms Ockenden, who is currently investigating failures at Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust, said progress on maternity care has been “wholly insufficient” in the 26 months since her report.

She said a minimum of £200m to £350m was needed immediately at the time her report was published, but only £180m has been spent in total so far.

The figure needed today – after inflation “ravaged” the economy – could be as much £1bn, she said.

This funding shortage compounds the strain on staff, she said, citing a Royal College of Midwives claim that staff are working 100,000 hours in unpaid overtime each week.

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Parents who lost baby due to maternity failings demand action

That has now risen to 118,000 hours, according to her understanding.

“We are significantly less than halfway where we should be in terms of finance,” she said.

“Without finance, we can’t grow our workforce.”

‘Some more equal than others’

While many will still be cared for properly, she said, there is a “postcode lottery” when it comes to quality, with ethnic minorities particularly affected.

“Some women are more equal than others, it would seem,” she said.

There are “persistent inequalities” in outcomes for women living in depravation, she added, and there are “so many inequalities that are persisting”.

“The government promised swift action,” she said, adding she is due to meet health minister Victoria Atkins in around six weeks.

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‘Much more work to do’ on maternity care

Read more:
Minister sorry as birth trauma report finds ‘shockingly poor quality’
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Each year, around 30,000 women will suffer a negative experience before, during or after delivery, according to this week’s inquiry results.

Led by Tory MP Theo Clarke and Labour MP Rosie Duffield, the Birth Trauma Inquiry considered evidence given by more than 1,300 women and called for a national plan to improve maternity care.

“Behind all of these numbers are accounts of lives that have been changed forever,” Ms Ockendon said.

“I do hear, on a daily basis, accounts of lives that have been torn apart, changed, and I can’t put them back together again.”

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “I am determined to improve the quality and consistency of care for women throughout pregnancy, birth and the critical months that follow, and I fully support work to develop a comprehensive national strategy to improve our maternity services.

“We are now investing £186m a year more than in 2021 to improve maternity and neonatal care, and we announced an extra £35m at the Spring Budget to boost maternity safety, with more midwives and better training.”

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