Maternity services are getting worse, and less safe, as pressure grows for national public inquiry

NHS maternity services are getting worse, with inspectors finding growing numbers ‘inadequate’ for safety - as pressure grows for the government to call a national public inquiry.

Overall, the Care Quality Commission found 49% of maternity services were inadequate or required improvement - up from 39% last year.

Meanwhile, on safety specifically, the figure had shot up from 54% last year to 65% this year.

Richard Stanton and Rhiannon Davies, who lost their daughter Kate in 2009 due to failures at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, accused the NHS of a "missed opportunity" to make urgent improvements to care recommended by independent midwife Donna Ockenden in her report more than 18 months ago.

“It’s incredibly frustrating beyond words really,” Richard told ITV News Central.

“We know that many hospitals are acting on her recommendations, but somehow we just don’t see care improving in maternity.

“Here we are with a raft of recommendations, some of them very basic, and yet maternity services seem to be sliding backwards.”

Donna Ockenden is leading a review into maternity care failings at trusts Credit: ITV News

At the time, the Shropshire review, with more than 1,400 cases of poor care resulting in hundreds of babies and mothers dying or being left seriously injured, was thought to be the biggest scandal in NHS history.

It came after a similar one in 2015, which found the preventable deaths of 11 babies and one mother at Morecambe Bay; and was followed later in 2022 by another review which found 45 preventable baby deaths at East Kent.

Now, an ongoing investigation in Nottingham, also led by Donna Ockenden, is currently examining almost 2,000 cases.

Richard and Rhiannon, alongside fellow campaigners Kayleigh and Colin Griffiths and backed by other bereaved families, have called for a national public inquiry.

“At the moment we’ve got a jigsaw, with bits and pieces here and there,” Richard said.

“It’s only at national level that we can understand the entire picture,” Rhiannon added.

“There are socio-economic and deprivation concerns, ethnicity concerns.

"Until we can dig into every single area of what is actually going wrong instead of putting a sticking plaster here and there, we’re not going to understand the full picture and we’re not going to get significant, deep change.”

Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton with a copy of the Ockenden report at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust Credit: PA

The report from the CQC follows a debate in the House of Commons yesterday, led by North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan.

“Each time a scandal emerges, we promise ourselves that it will be the last time. But tragically, so far, that has not been the case. It does seem that far from being a localised issue, maternity services have been experiencing a crisis nationally,” she warned.

“Too often, harm continues to occur as a result of care that isn’t in line with nationally agreed standards. Listening to the voices and experiences of families must be at the heart of policy. But most importantly, we must ensure that staffing levels are safe so that no one leaves the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart where that could have been avoided.”

The Stanton-Davies and Griffiths families sent letters calling for a national public inquiry directly to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who has yet to respond.

“The silence,” Rhiannon said, “has been deafening.”

Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton have been campaigning for years, after their newborn daughter Kate died in 2009. Credit: Family handout

In response, the Department of Health and Social Care issued the same response it has given each time it has been approached by ITV News Central about this story.

It said: “Every parent deserves to feel confident in the care they and their baby receive. These findings in Leicester are concerning and so we welcome the Care Quality Commission’s commitment to monitoring those trusts that are not providing an adequate standard, to ensure improvements are made.

“Nationally, we have invested £165 million a year since 2021 to grow the maternity workforce and improve neonatal services and we are promoting careers in midwifery by increasing training places by up to 3,650 over the past four years.

“The Care Quality Commission is also currently inspecting all NHS acute hospital maternity services that have not been inspected and rated since April 2021.”

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