• Maternity investigation chair reveals 250 cases under investigation
  • This is more than 10 times the 23 cases the review was originally set up to investigate
  • Message to families sent after “confusion and upset” caused by NHSI review panel

An independent inquiry into alleged poor maternity care at an NHS trust is now considering more than 250 separate cases, HSJ has learned.

The number of cases is more than 10 times the 23 cases the review was originally set up to investigate before it was widened following broader concerns exclusively revealed by HSJ in August last year.

Donna Ockenden, the expert appointed to investigate poor maternity care at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, confirmed the number of cases in her review in a letter to some of the families involved, which was shared with HSJ.

Ms Ockenden sent the message to families on Saturday after concerns NHS Improvement was trying to interfere with the investigation, commissioned by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2017.

NHSI abandoned a supposed independent review panel last week after HSJ revealed multiple conflicts of interests among its members, which included the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, officials from NHSI and a deputy chief inspector of the Care Quality Commission.

Addressing the abandoned NHSI review panel, Ms Ockenden said its creation had “caused confusion and upset for some families” but she stressed her review was not being watered down.

She said her message was “important to provide reassurance to families who have bravely come forward to participate in this review”.

“Our work is continuing, and we are making good progress. The review itself is of a very significant size – with more than 250 families’ cases now making up the cases under review,” she revealed.

“As chair of this important review I know that the entire team is absolutely committed to working together and pooling their years of experience in a ‘search for the truth’. We are progressing well in considering thousands of pages of documentation, and have met more than 50 families face to face so far.”

She said her team had been expanded to include more than 20 experienced clinicians with “tens of years” experience.

The team includes midwives, neonatologists, obstetricians, paediatricians and anaesthetists alongside other specialists in women’s health. She said none of the team had worked at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust “so they all therefore bring completely independent insight”.

Ms Ockenden said she was “acutely aware” many of the families had waited a long time for answers and that some had “suffered terribly over many years”.

She added: “It is therefore so important that the maternity review team is given the time needed to undertake this vitally important piece of work. We cannot yet give a timescale for completion. As the review has grown so considerably in size, completion is likely to be the end of the year.”

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust was rated “inadequate” last year after the CQC identified widespread safety and governance concerns, including safety fears in the trust’s maternity unit.

The management of the trust was described as having a “culture of defensiveness”.