Parents caught up in NHS maternity scandal ‘feel huge guilt’

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Mothers and fathers caught up in the worst maternity scandal in the history of NHS have a “huge amount of guilt” because they were not able to get the hospitals involved to listen to their complaints, MPs have been told.

Donna Ockenden, the midwifery expert leading a review into deaths and brain damage at the Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals (SaTH) told the health select committee that the trust’s maternity services had a “focus on normal birth at pretty much any cost”, an approach that had tragic consequences.

Ockenden’s interim report last week into 250 out 1,862 cases under review, found that the rate of C-section births at the trust were significantly below the English and regional average.

Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, Ockenden said: “The one issue that stands out above everything else is a failure to listen to families. We’ve come across a lot of families who tried really hard to get the system to listen to them, and they carry on their shoulders now a huge amount of guilt because they feel that they failed to get the system to listen.”

“There was also a culture [of] ‘this is your fault’ to the mother ‘if you haven’t done x, then your baby may have lived’. Not only not listening but blaming mothers, and mothers and fathers will tell you, they’ve carried that guilt for years.”

Last week, it emerged that England’s chief inspector of hospitals had expressed concerns about “cultural division” between midwives and doctors regarding “normal” and “interventional” approaches to childbirth. Ockenden revealed the scale of the problem to MPs on the committee. She said: “We have spoken to hundreds of women who have said to us they felt pressured to have a normal birth.”

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But Ockenden stressed that pressure for normal births at SaTH came from both obstetricians and midwives.

She said: “Caesarean section rates were considerably lower at the Shrewsbury health hospital when compared to trust locally, trust in the region, and trusts across England. But this came from across the professions, this came from obstetricians, it wasn’t solely a midwifery issue. We will be writing more about it in our next report because it’s something that we need to explore. It wasn’t one profession battling against another.”

She added: “The obstetricians were very much leading the way in Shrewsbury and Telford in terms of the push for normal birth.”

She suggested more lives would have been saved if the trust had been more willing to offer C-sections. She said: “There were a number of cases where caesarean section should have been used earlier, and had it been used earlier, the outcome for mothers and babies would have been better would have been safer.”

Asked whether the term “normal birth” should be dropped, Ockenden said: “I’ve met hundreds of families face to face in Shrewsbury and Telford and the very clear steer from those mothers and their extended families is that they want a birth that is safe.

Ockenden revealed that every NHS trust in the England was written to last night urging them to introduce sweeping changes to maternity services by 21 December.

She said: “I’m really delighted that the national system has now written note to all chief executives and chairs and CCGs and highlighting the key issues. Risk assessment is one of them. Listening to women’s voices is another one. Everyone has understood the seriousness of the issues both raised in Shrewsbury and Telford and the absolute need for the wider system to look at everything that we are saying.”