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Women must be listened to – says Shoosmiths SI’s Denise Stephens

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“Women must be listened to so maternity care can improve for all”, says leading clinical negligence expert Denise Stephens.

Denise, clinical negligence partner and head of Thames Valley serious injury team based in Reading, was speaking a part of a discussion on the Ockenden Inquiry with Maria Booker from childbirth charity Birthrights

Just two months after the release of the long-awaited report into failings at Telford and Shrewsbury Hospital Trust, Denise met with Maria, who is programme director for Birthrights, to discuss the findings of the report and crucial next steps in the latest SI podcast.

The Ockenden report uncovered more than 200 cases where mothers died, where babies were stillborn, or there was neonatal death, had significant or major concerns – and where different care would have resulted in a different outcome.

Another 106 cases involving cerebral palsy and brain damage were found to have the same concern,  with better care likely to have led to a better outcome.

One of the most common themes to come from the report was the culture of not listening to women. The testimony compiled by Ockenden repeatedly showed a lack of compassion for women in distressing, uncertain, and traumatic circumstances. 

The findings reported that concerns and complaints were too often dismissed, and when things did go wrong, Ockenden found too little transparency and dialogue with families.

Denise said: “This was a common theme that came from the report, that women are not being listened to during the antenatal period or during labour or being able to always be part of the process.  It is something that I see time and time again in cases I am dealing with. It is clear there must be a sea-change.

“Women must be listened to so maternity care can improve for all.”

Maria Booker echoed Denise’s views, saying that a “cultural shift” had to happen.

She said, “Sadly, that is what we see from our advice line almost every day. That's the change that we really need to see in maternity services. 

“We need to have services that are centred on the woman or the person giving birth and really listening to them and personalizing the care to their needs. 

“So, I think even with the latter, there's still a cultural shift that needs to happen. It's again going back to people feeling that it's the women or the birthing person who should make the choice about what's right for them.”

The final Ockenden report sees 15 recommendations for changes to all maternity services in England. These include financing a safe maternity workforce, ensuring time for training for staff, and having a clear escalation and mitigation policy when staffing levels are not met.

Both Denise and Maria agreed that were “positive” takeaways from the report, and that the long-awaited recommendations will make bring vital improvements.

Denise added: “There are a lot of obstetricians and midwives who deliver high quality service within the NHS. None of those people get up in the morning thinking that they're going to do harm or change someone's life irrevocably. 

“There are positive points within the Ockenden Report, and the recommendations that are set out will hopefully improve services in those areas where they have failed.”

Maria added: “I think the positive point from the Ockenden Report in general is that there's a real focus now on maternity services and a real recognition that something needs to be done.

“We also need to just bear in mind that there is a lot of good maternity care.

“And as well as looking at examples like Shrewsbury and Telford, we also need to focus on the really good examples because that can really help us know where to move forwards in the future and how we can emulate that.”

You can hear more of Denise and Maria’s thoughts on the Ockenden report, as well as a look at Birthrights report on racial injustice in maternity care, and the NHS midwife staffing crisis on their latest podcast.

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Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022

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