Ockenden report: What it's been like to report on the biggest maternity scandal in the NHS

Credit: PA

"It's been nine years and I have never heard them apologise for what happened to me. Thank you".

That was the text I received in February 2020, from a mother caught up in the maternity scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust.

ITV News Central had just run a full week of reports investigating in detail just some of the horror stories she, and so many others, have lived through.I was asked to write this article on what covering this story has been like, but in all honesty, I can claim little credit here - the crisis there had been unfolding for years by the time I came to the story.

The credit belongs to every single one of the 1,862 families whose cases are under investigation.

Having only arrived at ITV Central in 2016, it was other journalists - not just here at ITV but across the BBC, local papers, and one or two particularly tenacious national health correspondents too - who were more alive to the situation than I.

An ambulance outside Royal Shrewsbury Hospital Credit: PA

But that started to change as I heard more and more stories from heartbroken families, left grieving the loss of a newborn baby, or a mother, or left dealing with lifelong injuries... and failing to find any satisfactory answer as to why.

And as a journalist, nothing gets me more riled up than authorities speaking down to the communities they serve, trying to hide information or events about which the public has a right to know.

One of the many testimonials contained within the first official report Credit: ITV News Central

The review by midwife Donna Ockenden was already underway - and then, when a leaked copy of her interim report made headlines across the country in late 2019, I convinced the planning desk to give me time to find some of the people behind the statistics, to help give them a voice.

They agreed immediately.

Since then, I have continued to report on every twist and turn in this long-running saga, blessed with a new circle of contacts - largely mothers and fathers directly affected - with whom I began to build trust.

And what has been most striking to me is how brave they all are.

They have shared the most dreadful, painful episodes of their lives with a relative stranger, in the hope that someone would not only finally listen to them - but, ideally, make changes to ensure nobody else would have to endure the same in future.

Just one of the families affected by failings in maternity care, sharing their fight for answers with me Credit: ITV News Central

Two families in particular deserve a mention here. The Stanton-Davies family, who lost their daughter Kate in 2009, and the Griffiths family, who lost Pippa in 2016.

They teamed up following Pippa's death, and together they put in hours upon days upon weeks of research - combing through media reports, social media posts, and rumours - to find other cases like theirs; cases where poor care seemed to be the only explanation for what happened, but where no such explanation had been offered.

Thanks to others who had spoken publicly, making their concerns heard in the media and filing formal complaints, Rhiannon and Kayleigh compiled a list of 23 cases which they believed demonstrated the need for government intervention.

The government agreed, and asked Donna Ockenden to launch a review, the outcome of which we are now on the verge of receiving.

Had it not been for their determination, persistence, and what Rhiannon once described to me as "sheer bloody-mindedness", the review would never have happened.

And of course, had it not been for the vocal outrage of countless others who have spoken out over the years, pulling together their list would have been an impossible task.

Yet still, there are others.

I have a notebook in which several pages are filled with names and numbers of women who were affected, and wanted to speak to me - but didn't want to speak publicly.

Sometimes, those stories are too raw, or too intimate, or perhaps even too far in the past, to want to relive it on camera.

But they have relived it as part of this review - and that in itself is quite brilliantly brave.

Their evidence will form the basis, it is hoped, for a better, more caring maternity service across the entire NHS.

So, to answer the question - what has it been like for me to cover this story over the years?

It has been tough, at times. People have broken down in tears to me, and they've shared angry rants at the latest twist and turn with me.

They have opened up to me about their pain, and I've felt the privilege of being there to hear their stories - and the pressure to ensure our reporting does them justice. I very much hope to have done that.

But mostly, it's been amazing to bear witness to the incredible bravery shown by all those families out there.

I hope the publication brings them what so many have told me they want - answers, and real action to make the changes needed.

This story doesn't end yet - the scrutiny which has got the families to this point will continue and I sincerely hope in future, I'll be able to report that this action is indeed being taken.

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