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NHS developing early warning system to spot maternity failings

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During a parliamentary debate following the publication of a report by Donna Ockenden into the failings of maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust (SaTH), the Minister of Health said the Director of health is designing an “early warning” system to detect and prevent future maternity care scandals.

The report of midwifery expert Donna Ockenden, which was recently published, included seven ‘Immediate and Essential Actions’ which are considered necessary to ensure safe practice in maternity wards at SaTH and maternity services across the NHS. After in a debate in Parliament, the Minister of Health was challenged by MPs to take action to prevent future scandals.

The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“The biggest mistake in interpreting this report would be to think that what happened at Shrewsbury and Telford is a one-off — it may well not be, and we mustn't assume that it is”, in his warning that the failings at Shropshire Trust could be repeated.”

Patient safety minister Nadine Dorries said:

“Every woman should own her birth plan, be in control of what is happening to her during her delivery and I really hope...this report is fundamental in how it's going to reform the maternity services across the UK going forward. Not least because the NHS itself is working, at this moment in time, on an early warning surveillance system”.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that it is working alongside NHS England ‘to improve surveillance of the safety of maternity services’ by using data and intelligence to help identify areas of difficulty or concern. It was also said that a new curriculum for professionals working in maternity and neonatal services was being developed by the NHS Maternity transformation programme, in partnership with professional organisations including Royal Colleges aimed at tackling variations in safety training and competency across England.

Kashmir Uppal, a medical negligence solicitor representing maternity patients failed by the SaTH said:

“Although there is not yet a clear indication of how the early warning system will work, it is a positive step forward that the report of Donna Ockenden is being taken seriously. However, the ‘immediate and essential actions’ have to be implemented now and clinicians need to recognise that maternity care should not be target focussed, as that will simply lead to more tragedies. Attempting to reduce the number of caesarean sections performed is a false economy and leads to either significant brain injuries or the tragic loss of life.”

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