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NHSE clinical chief leaves for overseas role

Published on: 16 Mar 2023

NHS England’s chief midwifery officer – who has been central to the response to recent maternity care controversies – is to leave her role and join an international advocacy group, it has announced.

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent was appointed as the first chief midwifery officer for England in March 2019, having previously been director of midwifery and nursing at trusts including Imperial College Healthcare and Guy’s and St Thomas’.

NHSE announced today she would leave in May and join the International Confederation of Midwives, an education and advocacy group.

The move comes at a time of high scrutiny of care quality in maternity services, with recent scandals in Nottingham, East Kent and Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, and the Care Quality Commission highlighting concerns about a string of others.

Professor Dunkley-Bent was a driving force behind the implementation of the “midwifery continuity of carer model”.

Aimed at improving care particularly for minority groups with poorer outcomes, it was promoted in 2016’s Better Births review, and the NHS long-term plan, but was controversial because of the additional strain on stretched staff, and questions about how well evidenced it was.

In her report on the major care failures at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust’s maternity department, Donna Ockenden said the CoC model should be suspended until more evidence was gathered about its effectiveness and there were enough midwives to meet minimum staffing requirements.

After tensions within NHSE and the profession, NHSE officially told trusts to abandon the model in September last year, until there were enough midwives to safely run it.

An HSJ investigation last year revealed most trusts had cancelled or suspended the model because of widespread staffing shortages.