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Maternity: Broken Trust review – the furious tale of grieving parents’ fight for justice
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Maternity: Broken Trust review – the furious tale of grieving parents’ fight for justice

Maternity: Broken Trust delves into the stories behind the ongoing criminal investigation and independent inquiry into the alleged failures of maternity care at the Nottingham University hospitals trust (NUHT) that it is claimed led to the unnecessary deaths of mothers and babies over the past several years.

We first meet Jack and Sarah Hawkins – a doctor and physiotherapist at the very hospital in which their tragedy would unfold – as they are compiling a timeline for the leader of the inquiry, Donna Ockenden. It covers the six days they spent, as Sarah puts it, “begging for help” from the maternity department after she went into labour with their first child, Harriet. The essence seems to be that they simply wouldn’t let her come in until – again, as Sarah puts it – “something started to hang out of me”.

Harriet was born dead. She would be seven now. Instead of watching her grow up, her parents have spent those years campaigning for the inquiry that is now under way. They have also been searching out fellow bereaved and harmed families (those whose mothers or children were left with life-altering conditions due to alleged neglect) to gather more evidence for Ockenden. This seems to have been in the face of endless obstacles, obfuscation (often involving blaming parents) and denial by the NUHT, mistakes of fact – if not outright lies – made on medical notes and incomplete information released to coroners, sometimes resulting in the refusal of inquests to determine causes of death. The Hawkins’ marriage has ended under the pressure – though they still seem close – and they both lost their jobs at the trust. Not officially for whistleblowing, of course, but they believe this was the real reason behind their otherwise unexpected dismissals.

One of the bereaved mothers found by the crusading pair is Natalie, who says she was sent home with her new baby despite the fact that he hadn’t cried, opened his eyes, moved properly or fed. She says the staff told her she should be able to cope, as he was her fifth child. Cooper died in the night after Natalie carried out CPR in accordance with the 999 operator’s instructions. She was arrested on suspicion of causing his death. Her account of events, she says, was dismissed by the coroner in favour of the NUHT’s because he said Natalie was too traumatised to remember things in the proper order. She says every minute is burned on her memory.

Sharma and Ama were reported to social services for, the hospital said, not wanting their baby, Adoara, to have oxygen – after they raised concerns about the apparent dysfunction of the ventilator she was on. They are a Black couple, and Ama feels race has played its part in the trust’s refusal to engage with them properly since Adoara’s death at four months.

The individual stories are harrowing. Together they are a howl of grief and fury, marshalled by the Hawkinses and others into a force for good, even as the work compounds their grief and interrupts whatever healing there can be. The documentary does fine work in not letting the absolute misery and horror of the suffering overwhelm the story. It never blinds us to the bigger picture, which is about many things: accountability, the ability of the powerful to protect themselves and the danger of not closely supervising any large institution, however saintly its reputation. One of the most shocking stories is from a whistleblower who says it was a “sport” on her maternity ward to put the most inexperienced staff on the most complex cases and that some staff had become suicidal as a result of things they had witnessed.

It is a study, too, of the immense suffering caused to any victim by the absence of justice. All the families refer to the feeling of not being believed, of being treated like frauds, of feeling as if they were in a nightmare as information was seemingly withheld, manipulated, denied – reality warping in front of them as apologies never come, and no one seems to care about the past, present or future tragedies that will occur if things do not change.

Some hope is offered in the final minutes. The trust’s leaders and most of its board have now been replaced. Whether this is a damage limitation exercise or a genuine commitment to rooting out whatever incompetence – which sometimes seems perilously close to malevolence as you listen to some victims’ testimonies – may have led to this fathomless heartbreak for so many, we will have to read in the mortality stats, I guess. What a terrible world.

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Maternity: Broken Trust aired on ITV1 and is now on ITVX.

Source: theguardian.com