Maternity Services in Morecambe Bay — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:19 pm on 3rd March 2015.

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Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench 7:19 pm, 3rd March 2015

My Lords, I have to admit that, as an obstetrician, when I read this report, my immediate response was intense anger, anger at this systems failure on a grand scale. None of these things should have occurred. This is not an example of failure of a mild degree or of a relationship. This is failure on a major scale. No maternity unit in the country would tolerate these kinds of tragedies occurring in their own unit.

I commend the report. I have worked with the chairman and several of the expert advisers. Dr Kirkup worked with me when I carried out the inquiry on cancer services in Gateshead. He was a member of the team and I know the others, particularly as they come from my own hospital. Professor Stewart Forsyth was neonatologist with me, and I know James Walker, whose father is responsible for all the successes I have had in obstetrics and none of the failures. His name was also James Walker.

What can we do? There is the idea of mandatory reporting of unexpected maternal deaths and stillbirths. We have a stillbirth rate in the antenatal period that has not reduced in this country for 40 years. We have unexpectedly high numbers of normally formed babies who die in the interpartum period but who should not die. If that kind of tragedy ever occurred in my unit, there was a major investigation immediately afterwards. Mandatory reporting may highlight this issue because we need to address it.

I will focus on one recommendation of the several that are addressed regarding the professional organisations in medicine and midwifery. They need to step up to the plate and respond positively to this report on what their role will be in making maternity services safer in this country. The noble Earl referred to an airline-type investigation for root cause analysis. I accept that that is absolutely necessary but it requires experience and training and it must be done soon after the event to learn the lessons that might be applicable to other maternity units. I am encouraged to hear that NHS England will carry out a review of maternity services and I hope that it will be an in-depth review with the specific purpose of making maternity services safer. It should not be about demarcation issues with which we got ourselves tied up previously between different professional groups. It should not be about relocating services. It should be about making maternity services safer.

I have lots of questions but they are not for today and I will save them for another time. I hope all of us—no matter who the Government are—will now work to make maternity services in this country among the best possible.