Families caught up in the Shropshire maternity scandal say they're “furious” that the government has delayed the publication of a long-awaited review into the service - accusing ministers of a “cover-up”.
A total of 1,862 cases of poor care have been investigated as part of the review, including babies and mothers who have died or been seriously injured while at Shrewsbury & Telford Hospital Trust. The final report was due out on March 22nd, but has now been pushed back, with no new date set.
"It was a shock, it was a really sickening shock,” Rhiannon Davies, who lost her daughter Kate in 2009, said.
“As with anything, when you've got a date ahead you plan for that, practically and emotionally. We’ve heard from one mother who had booked her entire family in for counselling the day after the 22nd. That’s how much of an impact this has.
“To have it pulled out from under us at the last minute… It just takes you right back to the beginning of the fight when you were asking a question and getting a half answer, they were pushing us back.
“It just smacks of an attempt at a cover-up."
Charlotte Cross reports from the studio:
She and her husband Richard have been at the forefront of the campaign for justice for years, fighting alongside Kayleigh and Colin Griffiths, whose newborn daughter Pippa died in 2016.
The review, led by midwife Donna Ockenden, was finally launched by then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2017 on the basis of 23 cases of concern highlighted by the Stanton-Davies and Griffiths families.
Since then, it ballooned to its current total, making it one of the biggest health scandals in NHS history.
The interim Ockenden Report, covering the first 250 cases, was released in December 2020, with the final report due to be published at the end of last year.
That was delayed by a by-election in North Shropshire, and by the discovery of piles of new evidence by the Trust in the autumn.
The delay this time comes down to a statement made in the House of Commons earlier this week by patient safety minister Maria Caulfield regarding an indemnity policy needed in case anybody launches legal action as a result of the final report or the process of compiling it.
This began a 14-day ‘freeze’ period where publication is paused while MPs are allowed to raise objections.
But this comes dangerously close to parliamentary recess, with MPs rising for the Easter holidays on March 31st.
And as angry as families are by the delay now, if the government rushed it out in the three-day period between the ‘freeze’ ending and the start of recess - without a debate, scrutiny or possibly even a statement in the Commons - it would arguably be even worse.
“Of course we want the learning from the Ockenden Report out there as soon as possible,” Rhiannon told ITV Central.
“But that learning is our gift - the gift of all families who’ve lost babies, or mothers, or who have been left injured, to maternity services across the UK.
“If the report is rushed through Parliament on the last day before they go on recess and there's no attention given to these serious issues in Parliament, that's unforgivable."
She is among those to have signed a letter sent to all Shropshire MPs, as well as Mr Hunt and current Health Secretary Sajid Javid, calling for an urgent intervention to prevent the report being swept under the carpet.
“1,862 extended families have been waiting for answers about why they were harmed,” the letter to Mr Javid reads.
It continues: “The community in Shropshire has been waiting to learn what needs to change to ensure their hospital trust is a safe place to give birth. The entire maternity community across the UK is waiting to hear what it must do to create positive change to prevent avoidable deaths and harm in the future.
“Whether this is gross incompetence on behalf of the party you represent, or a blatant attempt to suppress the critical learning this report will deliver, it is your responsibility to take charge of the situation and rectify it.”
They have also called on him to apologise for the “avoidable delay.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are committed to getting the families the answers they deserve and our sympathies remain with all those affected.
“We continue to work with the Ockenden Review Team and NHS England and NHS Improvement to ensure the final report is published at the earliest opportunity.”
They declined to comment on the allegations of a cover-up.