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Shrewsbury maternity scandal: Health secretary condemned for silence over dozens of baby deaths

Shaun Lintern
Health secretary Matt Hancock: Reuters

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, and the junior minister for patient safety, Nadine Dorries, have been criticised for their three-day silence over the Shrewsbury maternity care scandal.

The Birth Trauma Association (BTA) said it was disappointed that Mr Hancock had not responded to news of the scandal in Shropshire for three days and said ministers needed to take urgent action.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, who has also backed The Independent‘s campaign to improve safety in maternity services, said it would be the “height of irresponsibility” to ignore the issue.

On Tuesday, The Independent published a leaked interim report from an independent investigation of maternity care at the trust, revealing widespread failings and a toxic culture at the trust where dozens of mothers and babies died.

Since the initial story broke The Independent has contacted the Conservative Party several times but received no formal response until Friday, when Mr Hancock issued a statement after the party learned of the criticism.

Mr Hancock’s social media feed has been filled with election posts and videos of him travelling around the country with no mention of the Shrewsbury issue.

Mr Ashworth said: “The findings of this review are shocking, heartbreaking and require serious attention from anyone who seeks office as the nation’s health secretary.

“To ignore it would be the height of irresponsibility. I’m determined to focus on ensuring safe quality care which is backed up by investment. I hope others adopt the same approach.”

Kim Thomas, chief executive of the BTA, a charity that supports women who suffer post-traumatic stress after giving birth, said: “We are very disappointed that no one in government has responded to the shocking maternity scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust.

“This is a hugely significant story that goes beyond party politics, and women need reassurance that both the Department of Health and the NHS are working to address the problems and keep them safe. From what women tell us, we believe that poor care is not unique to Shrewsbury and Telford but is replicated in other parts of the country.

“We would like the government to take all reports of negligence in maternity services seriously to make sure that no mothers or babies are put at risk of harm.”

Maureen Treadwell, research officer at the BTA, added: “We certainly need Matt Hancock, and his deputy, Nadine Dorries, to act urgently. There cannot be a single area of government where avoidable death on this scale should be allowed to continue while ministers say nothing.

“While political distractions abound, this is about life and death and we need a ministerial response.”

In his statement issued tonight, Mr Hancock said: “These allegations, stretching back 40 years, are extremely serious. There is an ongoing investigation, and it would not be right to prejudge the outcome of that before it has concluded.

“I want families to know that we will do what needs to be done to ensure that this never happens again.

“This is a leaked report, that was leaked before relatives were told about sensitive details about their loved ones. The report is incredibly sensitive, and very important to get right. We do not comment on leaks, and will respond in full when the report is published.”

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