Helen Morgan MP: Too many empty arms and broken hearts

The birth of a child should be the happiest moment of every parent’s life. Yet here in Shropshire almost all of us know a family who have instead faced devastation because of the death, or serious injury, of a baby that could have been avoided.

This week, a local mother wrote to me to say: “My son was born 10 days overdue on 7th August 2007 in Shrewsbury hospital. Unfortunately, due to gross negligence by the trust that day I left their hospital with empty arms and a broken heart.”

These horrendous experiences have been far too common and are why this week I led a debate on Baby Loss Awareness Week in Parliament.

It was in March last year that the Ockenden Report was published and outlined catastrophic failings in maternity care in Shropshire. In the 18 months since, progress has been made at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital, however, Donna Ockenden has remained busy and is now investigating a similar scandal in Nottingham.

This is a stark reminder that poor maternity care has not been restricted to Shropshire. Indeed each time a scandal emerges we promise it will be the last time, but tragically so far that has not been the case.

My constituents Kayleigh and Colin Griffiths have worked tirelessly for change since losing their baby daughter Pippa just 31 hours after she was born. They and their fellow campaigners deserve huge amounts of praise for using their trauma to force positive improvements and their voices and experiences must be at the heart of every policy. However, it is wrong that it is down to these grieving parents to push for changes that are so clearly needed.

As it stands, the Government will miss its target of halving stillbirths, maternal deaths, neonatal deaths and serious brain injury from their 2010 levels by 2025. There is no target for improvement beyond that point. I believe the avoidable death of a baby is something we should be working to eliminate.

In 2021-22, every day 13 babies in the UK were stillborn or died in the first 28 days of life and nearly one in five stillbirths may have been avoided if better care had been provided. Meanwhile stillbirths in deprived areas of the UK are double the number in the least deprived areas and black babies are twice as likely to die in their first 28 days than white ones.

These are starkly unequal statistics.

We must always remember that behind every statistic is the horrific experience of a woman at her most vulnerable.

Many such experiences were shared in the House of Commons yesterday. As well as my debate on Baby Loss, a debate was held on birth trauma led by Theo Clarke MP. Theo’s moving and deeply personal speech outlined just how much work needs to be done to improve care for mothers on maternity wards.

Meanwhile I have heard devastating evidence from parents who have been left in limbo waiting for months, or years, to find out why their baby died. This makes an already traumatic experience so much worse and is largely because of a desperate shortage of perinatal pathologists.

Indeed it is staffing issues that are behind most of these problems. There are not enough midwives and the midwives we do have are overworked and undervalued. Last year 63 per cent of midwives said they had felt unwell because of stress in the last 12 months. A decrease in staffing levels has been down to staff sickness rates, overtime and poor job satisfaction.

If we are to achieve positive change, the Government must invest. In 2021-22 the cost of harm from negligent NHS maternity services was more than double the cost of maternity care. The cost of failure is so much higher than the cost of success and this false economy should be justification enough for the Government to prioritise making maternity staffing safe.

Three quarters of the Ockenden report’s recommendations for Shropshire have now been delivered and good progress has been made with the remaining goals.
However, the issues in Nottingham, East Kent and elsewhere demonstrate how much more national work needs to be done.

Too often harm continues to occur as a result of care that is not in line with nationally-agreed standards.

Kayleigh and Colin have called for a national inquiry and I support their demands. Proper training, proper staffing and proper procedures are needed to stop scandals like Shropshire’s from being repeated.

We must make our maternity wards safe and stop any more mothers from leaving hospital with empty arms and broken hearts.

Helen Morgan MP

Helen Morgan is the MP for North Shropshire and the Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss