UK inquiry into maternity deaths lacks input from Asian mothers, chair says

A major inquiry into a UK maternity scandal that led to the deaths of, or serious injuries to, dozens of babies lacks representation from minority ethnic groups including Asians, its chair has said.

The review into Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust came after The Independent revealed systematic poor care over a decade.

Donna Ockenden, a senior midwife and activist, is leading the inquiry, but has argued that the NHS must encourage more ethnic minority families, including Asians, to come forward with personal accounts of the scandal.

So far, more than 250 white British families have provided evidence, but fewer than 20 black or Asian families have done so, The Independent said.

Last week, a nationwide report into maternal and neonatal deaths found that the risk of maternal death was four times higher for black women compared to white, while for Asian women, it was two times higher.

Ockenden said: “As the review chair, (I believe) the current situation is wholly insufficient.

“These numbers are insufficient, both to say that we have listened to women’s voices and also insufficient for the learning that the trust has to do as regards their own population.”

In 2021, 14 percent of residents in Nottingham reported their ethnicity as Asian.

Ockenden warned that Asian women, including Urdu speakers, were among the most affected by the trust’s failings, warning of a “deterioration in communications” between the hospital and the Urdu-speaking community.

Some women reported to the inquiry that authorities “don’t hear me, or see me or my family.”

Hospital staff also raised concerns after Urdu language maternity appointments were cut from 30 to 20 minutes long in order to “free up more midwives.”

Ockenden said in a letter to the trust: “We will continue in our efforts to ensure all women and family voices are heard but you will appreciate our work is taking place against a very difficult background.

“I look forward to hearing from the Trust as to the next steps it will take to ensure the content of my letter contributes to the necessary improvement in the provision of maternity services in Nottingham.”

The chief nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Michelle Rhodes, said: “We know more must be done to ensure the voices of women from all the communities we serve are heard, and we welcome feedback from Donna Ockenden and her team.”

A group of senior midwives, doctors, researchers and advocates, as well as ethnic minority staff and families, has been formed to tackle the issues raised by Ockenden, Rhodes said.

The scandal, initially covered by The Independent, was exposed through evidence that revealed 15 babies had died, while 46 were left with permanent brain damage, over the course of a decade at the hospital.

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust was fined $1 million in January over the death of a baby 23 minutes after birth.

An inquiry found the baby had died from a loss of oxygen flow to the brain as a result of the incident in September 2019.